‘This is our land’: Furious French farmers protest Chinese investors

Mounted on tractors and wielding flares, angry farmers came from all corners of France to say to Chinese investors: get off our land.

'This is our land': Furious French farmers protest Chinese investors
Members of a French farmers union hold a banner reading "Land of the people". Photo: AFP

Mounted on tractors and wielding flares, angry farmers came from all corners of France to say to Chinese investors: get off our land. 

More than 100 farmers swarmed on a Chinese-owned field in the Indre region of central France on Wednesday, occupying it in protest at what they say is financial speculation.

Waving the flag of France's Farmers' Confederation, they filled a seed drill with rye and sprayed grain in a demonstration they said symbolised the need to “take back the land for the farmers”.

“The land is there to provide for farmers' families and to produce food,” said Laurent Pinatel, spokesman for the Farmers' Confederation.

“The owners have come here to make a profit, to speculate on agriculture while monopolising the land.”

Chinese consortium Hongyang bought 1,700 hectares (4,200 acres) of land in the Indre in 2016, growing wheat for the international market.

The group has also snapped up 900 hectares in the nearby Allier region, adding to mounting worries in rural France that their traditional family ownership model is under threat from a huge rise in investor purchases.

Chinese investors have spent at least 76 billion euros ($89 billion) on French land since 2010, according to figures published by the American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation.

Punches thrown

As tensions rose at Wednesday's protest in the hamlet of Murs, a farm worker employed by the Chinese landowners punched both a protester and a journalist in the face.

“We have the same problem in the north between Saint-Omer and Dunkirk,” complained Jean-Luc Bardel, a farmer who travelled down for the protest, 
saying he had “barely” managed to buy three hectares due to investors buying swathes of land.

“In the agricultural colleges loads of young people in rural areas want to return to the land. But they can't find any, or it's much too expensive, because consortiums have driven up the prices.”

Some farmers — particularly those nearing retirement — have been enticed by rising prices to rent out or sub-let their land to large companies, he said. 

“Farmers' pensions are so weak that we can't really blame them, but it's not great,” he added.

Nicolas Calame, spokesman of the Farmers' Confederation in the Indre, said the region was “emblematic” of a global problem.

“The problem is not that the owners are Chinese. It's also scandalous when the French monopolise land in Ukraine or Poland,” he told AFP. 

The farmers urged the government to draft legislation restricting the amount of land major investors can buy up.

President Emmanuel Macron in February announced that he would impose new restrictions on foreign purchases of agricultural land.

Agriculture Minister Stephane Travert said Wednesday that a parliamentary commission was investigating the problem and that the government would 
announce “concrete proposals” once its work was done.

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French hunter kills bear that bit him

A 70-year-old hunter killed a bear in southwest France Saturday after it attacked and seriously wounded him, local officials said.

A brown bear is pictured in the semi-wildlife animal park of Les Angles, southwestern France.
Brown bears had nearly disappeared in France until the country began a reintroduction programme, importing them from Slovenia. AFP PHOTO / RAYMOND ROIG

The female bear, who was travelling with her cubs, bit him as he was hunting in the Seix region of Ariege, a source close to the case said.

Rescued by the local gendarmerie, he was transported to the intensive care unit of a hospital in Toulouse with a wound to his leg at the level of his femoral artery, officials at the prefecture in Ariege said.

One source close to the case said he was in a serious condition.

The hunter told local officials he had been out with a group of other hunters on the trail of a boar, when the female bear, who was travelling with her cubs, attacked him.

After being wounded, the hunter shot the bear twice, killing it.

The local gendarme unit was called out to rescue him at around 3:30 pm (1430 GMT). They discovered the body of the bear a few metres from where they had found the hunter.

An investigation has been opened into the incident, the prefecture in Ariege said.

One local official told AFP on Saturday: “This is really what we feared.”

“Today, you can really see that cohabitation is complicated,” said Christine Tequi, president of the Ariege department council.

The brown bear had nearly disappeared in this part of the world when France began a programme of reintroducing them, importing them from Slovenia.

Today, there are around sixty of them in the Pyrenees range, leading to increasing tensions with local farmers, because of the threat they pose to their livestock.

In 2020, three bears were illegally killed in the Pyrenees: two of them in Spain and one in France. The French government has committed to replacing any bear killed by a man.

READ ALSO: The decades-old battle between French farmers and conservationists over bears
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