A scandal in France: New Reservoirs
One solution to the problem of drought in France is the creation of artificial reservoirs, the size of several football pitches and 10m deep to provide water for irrigation.
These are called ‘mega-bassines’ [mega-bowls]. They are filled by pumping water from the water table, and this exposes the water to evaporation and spoiling. The pumped water is only available to the farmers who have paid for the basins, although the water table is a natural resource.
This is happening in Western France, where a new model of agriculture has developed, viz draining the land, traditionally a wetland, to grow maize, a very water consuming plant, destined for animal feed.
A better solution would be to return to less water consuming crops. This is the view of some farmers, in particular those grouped in the farmers’ union “Confédération Paysanne”. Demonstrators against the mega-basins have been attacked by police, with near fatalities among the demonstrators. The media present the struggle as one between ecologists and farmers. It is not, as Patrice de Plunkett, in his blog http://plunkett.hautetfort.com/archive/2023/03/27/sainte-soline-et-le-vrai-dossier-des-megabassines.html#more
“My editorial this morning on RCF (Radios chrétiennes de France) on the real issue of the megabassines and the enigma of the all-too-mediatised Black Blocs – two subjects that deserve to be better treated by the Parisian media:
About what has just happened in Sainte-Soline in the Deux-Sèvres: perhaps there are two investigations for investigative journalists to do – which are only touched upon so far in televised debates.
First subject of investigation: the battle for water is not (as is believed) between “farmers” and “environmentalists”; in reality it is between two kinds of farmers. We could give a little more say to those farmers who do not accept these huge artificial tanks called ‘megabasins’!
They are against mega-basins for two reasons:
– the water will be pumped from the groundwater, which hydrologists and environmental scientists consider to be an aberration in every respect;
– the water will be used primarily for a certain type of agriculture, which is increasingly inappropriate today. In the age of global warming, we need a different type of agriculture, one that respects the soil, uses less water and does not require dangerous pesticides. This is the model advocated, for example, by the activists of the Confédération paysanne, a union that counts on the national and international agricultural scene: they are opposed to megabasins for concrete reasons that would interest the general public. I would like to think that the media could interview the spokespersons of the Confédération paysanne a little more…
Second investigation that should be opened: instead of talking about the “return of the Black Blocs” as if they were like April showers, we could try to find out a bit more about these people, who for years have systematically spoiled social movements by parasitizing union processions and unleashing absurd ultraviolence; their only result since then has been to shock public opinion and provide arguments to the ministers of the Interior. A curious result from people who claim to “fight the system”… And this result is repeated year after year by the Black Blocs: it’s strange, even quite disturbing.
Two good subjects for investigation, aren’t they?”
“To say that a conflict like the megabasins is between “farmers” and “environmentalists” is the language of agribusiness. But agribusiness is contested by part of the agricultural world, even if the public authorities obviously don’t want to know about it… My column on Radio Présence (Toulouse Midi-Pyrénées) and Radio Fidélité Mayenne:
Last weekend’s violence around the Sainte-Soline megabasin allows the government and commentators, once again, to talk only about this violence and to neglect the root of the problem. It is a social problem.
Contrary to what the television often suggests, these environmental conflicts cannot be reduced to a clash between “environmentalists” on one side and “farmers” on the other. Even if an affair such as that of Sainte-Soline is now hijacked by the irruption of political groups with no link to the rural world, the revolt against megabasins – and in general against industrial agriculture and agrochemicals – does not come from the political milieu and has nothing to do with an ideology: this revolt comes from the rural world. Some farmers have a different conception of agriculture and are resisting the stranglehold of agribusiness and food multinationals: they want “a peasant agriculture that respects the environment, agricultural employment and product quality”. An agriculture that does not depopulate the countryside, that does not destroy family farms, and that responds seriously to the new conditions imposed by global warming… According to their motto: “many farmers in a living countryside”. These activists can be found, for example, in the Confédération paysanne, a union that currently represents 20% of the votes in elections to the Chambers of Agriculture in 94 French departments, including overseas.
But the union that prime ministers and presidents of the Republic systematically listen to, the union that television stations present as THE spokesperson for farmers, is obviously not the Confédération paysanne with its base of small and medium-sized farmers: the union that officials listen to is the FNSEA. The union that the officials listen to is the FNSEA, which includes the big cereal farmers, and whose future president, appointed this week, is the very incarnation of financial and industrial agribusiness…
This is the social reality behind the agricultural conflicts, which the general public does not know because it is not explained to them. It is time to do something about it.”