Healthy and home-grown food is essential for the survival of every Slovenian. However, our decision-makers seem to have forgotten this, as they try to pretend as if everything is fine and dandy, and even try to attach a political connotation to farmers in light of their protests. Although farmers are united in their warnings that agricultural policy has become totally unsustainable, coalition MPs insist on their position that they are doing great work. They rejected the proposed recommendations that would urgently address the situation of the Slovenian farmers. While the coalition is trying to convince the public that presenting the situation of the Slovenian farmer is just about scoring political points, the agricultural organisations are united in pointing out the unsustainability of the situation they are in: “If the communication had been different, these protests would certainly not have happened. The focus of this government is clearly on other objectives,” warned MP Alenka Helbl of the Slovenian Democratic Party (Slovenska demokratska stranka – SDS).
Borut Florjančič, President of the Cooperative Union of Slovenia (Zadružna Zveza Slovenije), pointed out that in recent years, the development of agricultural policies has been happening far away from actual agricultural land and forests, and completely separately from the farmers. “It is being developed behind office walls, in an increasingly numerous official apparatus that often has no contact with agriculture. Both at home and in Brussels,” he stressed, adding that therefore, it is no wonder that somewhere between the preparations for our accession to the European Union and today, our agricultural policy lost its first objective, which is the sustainable production of affordable food in an economically sustainable manner. “Without this objective, the other objectives cannot be realised: the vitality and social security of the countryside and the picturesque biodiversity of Slovenia’s unique landscape. A landscape shaped by the Slovenian farmer over the centuries. Without food production, the first objective of the Common Agricultural Policy, we lose long-term food security,” he warned.
Roman Žveglič, President of the Slovenian Chamber of Agriculture and Forestry (Kmetijsko gospodarska zbornica Slovenije – KGZS), on the occasion of the 23rd anniversary of KGZS, pointed out that agriculture is facing increasing challenges. The Animal Protection Act is in the process of being adopted, and he also pointed to the increased taxation of the common agricultural policy funds, the announced taxation of real estate, as well as environmental requirements that restrict food production technologies, and climate change. “These are all challenges that concern both food producers and the general public,” Žveglič stressed, adding that many farmers expressed their helplessness to understand the situation at a protest held in Ljubljana in April.
In Slovenia, 8 percent fewer agricultural holdings were engaged in agricultural activity in 2020 than in 2010, the number of holdings with meadows and pastures fell by 6 percent, the number of holdings with permanent crops by 13 percent, the number of holdings with vineyards by a third, and the number of areas with vineyards fell by 14 percent.
According to Žveglič, agriculture is clearly not just an economic sector, but also plays a role in maintaining population density, ensuring social balance, maintaining and preserving the cultural landscape, preserving national identity, preserving traditional characteristics and ethnographic features, ensuring food security, preventing overgrowth, etc. “At the moment, agriculture is facing a multitude of enormous challenges, affecting both small and large farmers, plain and hill, organic and conventional,” he pointed out, adding that the challenges we are facing are particularly acute for young people. Young female and male farmers, he said, would fare badly if they gave in to vested interests. “We must not let that happen,” he was clear.
The government has rejected the recommendations, partly with contempt and vehemence
The SDS party, which is the largest opposition party, has made recommendations to immediately address the situation of Slovenian farmers. Among other things, they called on the government to adjust the environmental requirements for farming in the Natura 2000 area in such a way that farmers are not prevented from farming. At the same time, the government should immediately start the official procedure to reduce the size of the Slovenian territory in Natura 2000. They also called on the government to oppose the adoption of the proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the sustainable use of plant protection phytopharmacological products and asked it to ensure that no new tax burdens are introduced and that payments for the less favourable areas for farming are fully exempted from income tax. All direct payments and other agricultural funding should be brought into line with inflation, they said. “We call on the government to ensure that the population of carnivores and game is reduced to the carrying capacity of the environment and that carnivores and game are effectively managed in the future in a way that protects the population and enables safe farming.” According to SDS MP Tomaž Lisec, the government has rejected these recommendations, “partly with contempt and vehemence”. “The government rejects all the recommendations because – in their opinion – they are unnecessary, as all the activities are already being carried out. Dear farmers, the government and the coalition, are telling you that there are no problems in agriculture, or that they are being solved, while farmers themselves probably know best that this is not true,” Lisec said, according to the Slovenian Press Agency.
There are clearly other objectives at the forefront of this government’s mind
We asked SDS MP Alenka Helbl, a member of the Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Food, why the party had decided to call an extraordinary session. “The Slovenian Democratic Party has paid close attention to agriculture throughout all these years. Agriculture is one of the priority topics in our programme because we are aware of the importance of agriculture and all that it brings, i.e., the preservation of the Slovenian countryside, Slovenian culture and the Slovenian landscape,” she stressed, adding that the party also has an active Forum for Agriculture and the Countryside. This year, they have already held three regional meetings or round tables on the way forward in agriculture, listening to farmers, their problems, their proposals, and learning about examples of good practice.
They also called this meeting because they believe that, despite the fact that the Minister is meeting with farmers, with individual groups, there is no impact. MP Helbl believes that it is absolutely urgent that everyone sits down together when drawing up the strategic plan for the Common Agricultural Policy. “If communication had been different, these protests would certainly not have happened. The focus of this government is clearly on other objectives,” she pointed out, adding that all we can hear from the government now are promises about help for farmers.
There is no agriculture without farmers
The MP then said farmers reacted strongly to Thursday’s meeting of the Agriculture Committee when they heard what was said. “There were a few calls, emails. I met with three farmers this morning at my office in Radlje ob Dravi before I left for Ljubljana, so I also read their messages.” Their common message, she said, was that agriculture will not be discussed without farmers and that they want to be equal partners in this and will not allow themselves to be cut from the discussion. “In addition, the coalition accuses us of encouraging them to protest, but this is not true,” she added clearly. She said that on Thursday, one of the farmers had told her loud and clear and pleaded with her to tell the MPs that farmers can think with their heads, read, do maths, and that they are also politically diverse, and they will not be deterred by these accusations. What the coalition argued on Friday and in the Committee meeting on Thursday is, in the MP’s view, nothing but bluff. “I am not sure that joint steps will be possible.”
There is also talk of certain pressures on the more active representatives of farming organisations
When asked how she views the coalition’s rejection of the draft recommendations for an immediate solution to the situation of the Slovenian farmer, she replied that this happened because the coalition is talking about this being political. In this context, she pointed out that it is necessary to be aware that it is the politicians, the decision-makers in the National Assembly, the government and so on who take the measures. “Of course it is political. But the point is that these are recommendations that have been made, perhaps also for the consideration of the government, that this kind of communication leads nowhere,” she stressed, adding that farmers are really disappointed. “There is also talk of certain pressures on the more active representatives of farmers’ organisations.” This, she said, leads nowhere. She added that she fears for our food security, for the protection of the Slovenian landscape. She said that one farmer pointed out to her that we have all this nature because it has been preserved by farmers over the years, even back when there was no talk of nature conservationists yet. “Everything was preserved in part because of farming, but now conditions are being imposed that restrict or make it more difficult to farm, and thus lower the competitiveness of the Slovenian farmer,” she was critical.
The idea of what a Slovenian farmer is like, she said, is still clearly one from the old days – namely, some people still believe that farmers should not be economically successful and should be overworked. “Now we have young people who have ideas, who are educated, who want to work and who are willing to spend all day and all seven days of the week on the farm in order to ensure that we have locally produced food,” she pointed out, adding that she thought it was absolutely inappropriate to make fun of their agricultural machinery during the protests, as some people complained about the farmers buzzing around Ljubljana. As there were also criticisms about the value of the tractors, the MP pointed out people need to become more aware of the fact that farmers would not be able to cultivate their land without them.
Producing quality food for Slovenian citizens is our primary objective
Anton Medved, President of the Slovenian Farmers’ Union, stressed that Slovenian agriculture could be said to be the largest enterprise in our country. “If we just look at the amount of work that agriculture does, we can say with certainty that we generate the largest GDP of all business entities. If we compare ourselves to a company, however, we can immediately point out the biggest problems of this company: its fragmentation throughout Slovenia. This fact makes it clear that it is very important to bring farmers together. Farmers are linked and work together in different ways: interest-based, economic, sectoral, and in the form of young people from the countryside who form associations.” Because networking is essential in agriculture, as has been demonstrated in the last two years. According to Medved, farming organisations are more united than ever under the grip of legislative demands and environmental extremists who believe that their own views as the only truth and are even willing to change legislation for them, with the help of officials and MPs.
“We have had enough, so we showed our helplessness and disagreement at the warning protests,” Medved pointed out, adding that farming NGOs not only have lots of expertise in agricultural policy, but also a large knowledge base in rural governance. It is precisely because of the latter, he said, that all agricultural NGOs are very important for our agricultural space. “Farmers’ organisations provide professional and economic support to our small family farms. Without support, expertise and organised marketing, it would be difficult for them to survive on their own,” he pointed out, also highlighting that our farmers ensure that the Slovenian countryside is cultivated, which also creates the conditions for tourism and the economy, which benefit all citizens. At the same time, they produce food of exceptional quality, which is subject to strict controls. Medved said he is proud of the cooperation with agricultural organisations. “We know that together we are stronger and that together we work for Slovenian agriculture, for every single farmer. United, we are stronger, and we will remain so.” He also said they want to continue the path of our fathers for our children and grandchildren. “We are confident that we will succeed in improving working conditions for the Slovenian farmer in these difficult times. Producing quality food for Slovenian citizens is our primary goal. To all others with different appetites in this place, we say that we want nothing more than for them to let us work,” he said, adding that their work will ensure that Slovenian citizens can continue to enjoy Slovenian food and a cultivated countryside.
During the Covid-19 crisis, citizens saw how important it is for a country to be able to produce its own food, and this was confirmed in the case of the war in Ukraine. However, it seems that for some, the lessons are still not sinking in, because the farmer is being portrayed as an unnecessary, invaluable burden, as if it were not the farmers who are responsible for putting bread on our tables every day. Will reason prevail, or will we find ourselves in a situation where food security is very much in question because of some people’s foolishness? After all, without food, there is no life.