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“Farmer, I live below the poverty line”

En passing his hand over what should have looked like beautiful shoots, Frédéric Lesueur is disillusioned. A week ago, a violent hailstorm fell over his ten hectares of plantations in Chantepie near Rennes, and his fields still bear serious scars. “Here, I could count on a ton of onions, there, on radishes and beets, but the leaves have been crushed, and I don’t know what I’ll get back. I have no more summer vegetables, and my salads have been destroyed by half. »

Since his retraining as an organic producer five years ago, this former computer engineer had never experienced such disillusion. And it’s far from over as a heat wave is looming in the coming days and the drought, which has been raging for several weeks, could intensify during the summer. No respite therefore, even though the last weather episode is far from being digested. “There are about ten of us who have taken the storm in this sector, and it will jeopardize our operations, because, for the moment, we are not entitled to anything, we are not covered, creaks this Norman of origin. Hail is not recognized as an agricultural calamity, it must be discussed with the prefecture or the ministry. »

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Climatic hazards (and especially their management) are also at the heart of the various mobilizations organized since June 4 all over France by the Confédération paysanne. This was the case in Rennes a week ago, in Amiens on June 8, and it will be again this Saturday in Saint-Brieuc, then on the 23rd in Hérault. Objective ? Challenge the public authorities, especially during this weekend of legislative elections, but also consumers on the income of operators.

Below the poverty line

Or rather the lack of income. According to INSEE, a peasant earned 1,200 euros per month in 2020 for 55 hours of weekly work. It’s an average, and Frédéric Lesueur, he says he is “in the low range”. Even very low, obviously. “I live on less than 800 euros per month, below the poverty line [1 102 euros pour une personne seule, NDLR]. If there’s one thing that could make me stop, it would be that, because it’s not easy, at 48, not being able to have a house. Access to housing is also a big problem, because I don’t have a pay slip, so the owners refuse to rent, it’s a bit of a hassle! In addition, rents here have increased by 20% since the Covid! »

The pandemic had precisely caused an unprecedented momentum towards short circuits, many having then resumed cooking with local and fresh products during the various confinements. Only here, what should have started a collective and lasting awareness of the need to regain food sovereignty in France did not resist the return to normal life. “At that time, I had many orders for baskets, and we really believed that the system was going to change, that we could get out of this globalization. Even the President of the Republic went in this direction! But obviously, it was announcement effects, because, behind, people went back to their habits. Worse, today with a 20 to 30% drop in our sales, we have fallen back below 2019, so before the Covid. »

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According to the Confédération paysanne, it is quite possible to reverse the trend thanks to the so-called open-air city markets. It would suffice to give priority access to peasant producers, knowing that they only represent 16% of stalls in France today, the rest being mainly occupied by resellers or wholesalers. A request that is all the easier to set up as it depends directly on the municipalities. In Rennes, Frédéric Lesueur was part of a delegation received at the town hall on this issue. “I think that the elected officials understood the problem well, I have good hopes, the exchange was positive. It remains to be seen if (and when) this will materialize.

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