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17/07/2015

'Agricultural organizations are a necessary tool'

Ricardo Migueláñez. Agricultural Engineer @rmiguelanez

Ricardo Migueláñez.- Could you give us a brief description of the UPA and the types of members it has?

Lorenzo Ramos.-The UPA is a professional agricultural organization that represents family-owned agricultural and livestock farms in Spain. Our members are small- and medium-sized farms where almost all members of the family participate and they account for most of the farmers and stockbreeders here in Spain.

We have 80,000 members, 80,000 families actually, so the number of members is higher. We operate in all towns in almost all of Spain, although we're still getting up and running and starting to grow in some of those areas. The UPA is the youngest agricultural organization in Spain, although we've been around for almost 30 years.

R.M.- How does the UPA view the current situation in the primary sector?

L.R.-We view it as complicated, because the truth of the matter is that we're having a lot of problems, especially with the prices that farmers and stockbreeders receive for their products. We don't have the influence or the capacity set a price that allows us to obtain a return or at least covers production costs.

The prices we're receiving for products is, in many cases, the same as 25 years ago, while production costs have increased four-fold. As a result, the numbers just don't add up.

We're also continuously being subjected to a series of reforms under the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which requires us to adapt constantly. It's not clear to us what and on which production system we truly need to focus. We don't believe the EU takes the agricultural and livestock sector very seriously and it doesn't afford them the continuity and resolve they deserve.

It's a sector which has a bright future since, in addition to producing food, we play an important role in caring for rural areas, the environment and the landscape, and yet it's not considered sufficiently important by the central government. As a result, the sector is having a hard time.

R.M.- What role do you believe Spanish farmers and stockbreeders can play in exiting the crisis?

L.R.-As we're accustomed to living in constant crisis, we continue to move forward, with the same problems we had before the crisis. When we look at the analysis of agricultural sector income in Spain, we see that wages haven't changed in 15 or 20 years. The market situation doesn't allow us to create jobs. Now unemployment in general is starting to decline, but in the agricultural sector, it continues to rise or remains at very high levels. We don't have the capacity.

R.M.- What's the status of family-owned farms in Spain and Europe?

L.R.-Family farms in Spain and Europe feel that they are not acknowledged by the public administrations. Accounting for more than 90% in the European Union and close to 90% in Spain, the regulations approved and the disbursement of the budget do not favor family-owned farms.

I think we've shown that we're capable of preparing ourselves, of modernizing to produce food in the best conditions and of providing food that is healthy, safe, and top quality. A product from a family-owned farm is very high quality and is safer than one produced by a super-industrialized farm.

We have shown that we have the capacity, because we produce more than 70% of the foods consumed at global level. Moreover, we live in rural areas, we remain in our towns. These villages are kept alive thanks to family farms. We support and give life to rural areas. We also take better care of the landscape than anyone else. Why? Because we're a part of that landscape.

R.M.- What is your opinion of the subsidy request process under the new CAP which just concluded?

L.R.- It was very complicated. We have been very critical of the policy, we have been vocal about it, and we will continue to defend our position because we're sure that another will be proposed in the near future. In any event, when the reform was completed, we got to work to process it in the best way possible for farmers, because it's a year of change, and if you don't make it easy for people, they encounter a lot of problems.

We're certain that this reform will lead to many challenges, especially for professionals, who have the most to lose. We hope that implementation doesn't lead to more problems because the "subsidy hounds" are certainly fully prepared to ensure they don't lose out. But the farmer, who is dedicated to being on his farm, obtaining the best harvest, and taking the best care of his cattle, doesn't have time to do paperwork all day long.

Logically, we try to make things easier for them, but the Public Administration should have taken this issue much more seriously because it has had a lot of time.

R.M.- What's the status of professional agricultural organizations like the one you represent? What do they provide to farmers and stockbreeders, in your opinion?

L.R.-The situation isn't great. The budget for certain projects and programs we have been working on regularly has been cut considerably because of the crisis. Direct aid granted to farm organizations has also been reduced, because we play such an important role. In the end, reducing support for a farmer's union may be an effort to silence us, but we will continue with the same dedication, because we owe it to our farmers and stockbreeders. Thanks to them, we continue to move forward.

We, the agricultural organizations, are an absolutely necessary tool because we're doing an important job by providing advice and other services that the Public Administration used to offer but no longer provides. The UPA has offices in almost every town in Spain. And if there's a person somewhere who has a problem with his son or daughter's scholarship, or he's lost his job, he comes to us for legal help.

We have adapted our organization so that it runs on its own resources, the fees paid by members. It's something we had been doing, and we have the structure we have currently because it's what we can afford.

We also submit claims to, and negotiate with, the Public Administration and with companies so that ours function as best as possible. We also hope to defend and improve the most important issue, commercial relationships, so that farmers achieve prices that allow them to survive.

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