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  • Writer's pictureSaar van Ommen

Dutch Farmers Recognise the Despair Driving Recent Protests

In recent weeks, as farmer’s demonstrations in the Netherlands have died down, Dutch farmers are looking over the borders to Belgium, France and Germany where agricultural workers are protesting against declining incomes and strict European environmental standards.

These European farmers are taking action due to rapidly changing regulations and inflation. Meeting new legislation requires steep investments while production costs only increase. Farmers are struggling to make ends meet.

Their protests take the shape of road blockades with tractors and manifestations in squares in major cities. Only very recently, similar manifestations took place in the Netherlands.

Farmers' protests in Germany © Alina Stehle

Dutch farmers' protests

The Dutch protests had a slightly different focus. In October 2019, the first tractors drove The Hague in reaction to the proposal by political party D66 to halve the livestock in order to get a grip on the nitrogen crisis.

While nitrogen remains the main problem in Dutch agricultural debates, some farmers say that the protests signify a much more general discontent, which is mirrored in the Belgian, French and German protests. "That first demonstration in 2019 in the Netherlands was really one of unrest. We want to be seen, we don't feel heard. That first demonstration was there to show that this isn't going to end well this way," says Saskia (fictitious name), a dairy farmer in the Netherlands.

Saskia did not attend the protest in the Netherlands and therefore asked to remain anonymous. She does, however, follow European developments closely and recognises the despair in herself and her peers. "We introduce new rules and new rules and new rules again and again and again, it's really very bad. It never stops," she says.

"That doesn't mean that farmers don't have to change, I'm not saying that. In my opinion, it's not a problem for us farmers to make contributions. It's just, is it manageable? And is it clear?"

"I want a discussion about values and for us to come to solutions together"

Other farmers also recognise the problems from across the border. “In my opinion, it's all about the same thing – general malaise among farmers who are not making ends meet,” says Geertjan Kloosterboer, a dairy farmer from Overijssel, a province in the east of the Netherlands.

Still, Kloosterboer does not engage much with the stories he hears on the news. He does not discuss them with his peers and when reading the news, he feels mainly disappointment.

"It's always about farmer protests, but never what lies beneath. What you want is for conversations about values to take place. I want a discussion about values and for us to come to solutions together. But often it doesn't lead to that, and that's disappointing."

Saskia agrees that there is too big a gap between farmers and the rest of society. "We can't understand each other anymore," she says.  

According to Saskia, farmers all over Europe feel undervalued. "If you're a farmer, you're a food producer, and you just feel that producing food isn't important anymore. Of course we can have discussions about whether there's too much or too little food, but if you're no longer recognised in your work, unrest arises."

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