If the global energy crisis as a direct manifestation of now five-month long Ukraine war was not enough, then the ongoing farmer protests in Europe, triggered off by emission cut proposals by Netherlands government, will hit at the food supply chains, and deliver a double whammy on world economy.
Faced with growing protests, the EU will have to balance its food security with the green environment or else not only the repercussions of this agitation will hit at the global food chain and drive inflation further in affected countries. With oil prices at a all time high due to sanctions on Russia and West Asia oil producers making a windfall profits by curtailing production, any hit at the global food supply chain will sink smaller economies and Sri Lankan crisis will be replicated in other continents.
While the Ukraine war has become a battleground for Russia and the Western bloc, a massive farmers’ protest, triggered by proposals to clamp down on emissions of known pollutants from intensive livestock and crop production systems, is gaining momentum in the Netherlands.
The scale of the protest is not only putting pressure on the Dutch government to reconsider its £22 billion plan to cut nitrogen and ammonia emissions by 50-70 per cent by 2030, the European Union would also be facing a difficult choice between food security and the green environment as other countries show solidarity with the protests.
The German, Italian, Spanish and Polish farmers have also launched protests in a show of solidarity, fearing their governments would also implement similar plan to comply with EU rules. On June 6, the German farmers blocked roads on the Dutch-German border and gathered in large numbers to protest near the city of Heerenburg. Italian farmers also held tractor protests in rural areas, threatening to take the protests to the streets of Rome. Polish farmers took over the streets of the national capital against the high interest rates which have destabilized the production and are threatening their livelihoods. They have also blamed the government for allowing cheap food imports. The heat of rising inflation has also reached Spain where farmers blocked highways in the southern region of Andalusia against high fuel prices and inflating costs of essential products.
In an apparent move to pacify the farmers, the EU Parliament issued a resolution, denouncing India’s “distorting” sugar subsidies, citing it to be against WTO agriculture agreement and detrimental to the EU sugar producer. Although the resolution offered some relief to European sugar industry, there has been no easing of protests.
The agricultural sector in the Netherlands accounts for 45% of all Nitrogen emissions and under the Dutch government’s plan, the farmer would have to drastically reduce the amount of nitrous oxide and ammonia emissions produced by their livestock. This means many farms would be forced to downsize and some will be shut down permanently. While the government has announced large investments in farm housing and technology, they will also have the option to force farmers to sell their land in case enough volunteers for the technology shift are not found.
According to an estimate, the Dutch government’s plan could force 30 per cent of the farms out of business by 2030. The attempt to comply with the EU’s “Green Deal”, which could radically alert the country’s lucrative agriculture sector, has left the Dutch farmers furious who face great uncertainty over their future in the industry that has been traditionally supported by the government.
Thousands of them blocked ports, airports, roads as well as supermarket distribution centers with their tractors, torched straw bales in the streets and dumped manure at government buildings. The supermarkets are running out of food as the protests continue to intensify. Other sectors have also started to join in the protests, with fishermen blocking ports and several ships honking their horns to express their frustration over rising inflation. However, the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, for now, has defended the plan saying there is a “limit to what a government can do” to help people amid rising inflation. This is not the answer that a common man wants from their government.