Get off our land, French farmers tell Chinese investors

Members of French farmers union, La Confederation Paysanne, holding a banner that reads "Land of the people" as they occupy fields belonging to Chinese farmers during a demonstration in Murs, near Chatillon-sur-Indre, on Aug 29, 2018.
Members of French farmers union, La Confederation Paysanne, holding a banner that reads "Land of the people" as they occupy fields belonging to Chinese farmers during a demonstration in Murs, near Chatillon-sur-Indre, on Aug 29, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

CHATILLON-SUR-INDRE (France) • 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 to symbolise the need to "take back the land for the farmers".

Confederation spokesman Laurent Pinatel, said: "The land is there to provide for farmers' families and to produce food.

"The owners have come here to make a profit, to speculate on agriculture while monopolising the land," he added.

Chinese consortium Hongyang bought 1,700ha of land in the Indre in 2016, growing wheat for the international market.

The group has also snapped up 900ha 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 (S$121.4 billion) on French land since 2010, according to figures published by the American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation.

As tensions rose at Wednesday's protest in the hamlet of Murs, a farm worker employed by 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 farmer Jean-Luc Bardel who had travelled down for the protest, saying he had barely managed to buy 3ha of land because of investors buying swathes.

Mr Nicolas Calame, speaking for 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 Agence France-Presse.

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

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2018, with the headline 'Get off our land, French farmers tell Chinese investors'. Print Edition | Subscribe