Speech by Jerónimo de Sousa, General Secretary of the PCP

Food production, agriculture and food sovereignty – a national goal

Food production, agriculture and food sovereignty – a national goal

First and foremost, I would like to welcome your important presence in this Hearing promoted by the Parliamentary Group of the PCP and thank you for your contributions, coming from the deep knowledge of those who persevere in tilling the land and feeding the cattle, come rain or shine. Contributions that will be particularly useful for our work and intervention.

Please accept that I begin this intervention with a topic that touches all of us, sending from here a strong word of solidarity to those who were affected by the dramatic fires that raged in recent days, from North to South of the country. Solidarity and appreciation to all those who fought the fires, but specially to the victims, the wounded, those who were left without homes, without crops, without means of earning a living, without prospects, many of them.

We would like to express to all the PCP's commitment to finding solutions to support the recovery of their lost belongings and to ensure their income. It was in this sense that we asked the European Commission about aid that could be activated and that just today we proposed the application of criteria to support victims, similar to those used with victims of the 2017 fires.

​This is not the time or place for assessments, but we will always have to say that we know well what the weather conditions were these days, but we also know that weather has very broad shoulders.

​Five years after the fires in June and October 2017, after having gone through similar situations in 2003 and 2005, we know that, in addition to the reports, announcements, legislation and decrees, the harassment and blame of small and medium-sized owners, there is still a lot to be done in structural terms to defend the national forest. In terms of valorising the price of wood, forest management, public support for small and medium-sized farming, forest registry, but also support for firefighters. What remains to be done is really a lot considering the time since elapsed. 

It seems that the Government learned little from 2017. It did not and does not want to understand that the forest and the rural world are not defended, without defending rural communities and their main activities - a central and foremost issue to guarantee a humanised, balanced and safe territory.

​Much of what remains to be done is exactly the matter that we have dealt with here today and that has been expressed in your speeches.

​In fact, we could ask: what makes the farmers and so many of their associations come out in recent months to denounce and protest against the situation of Portuguese agriculture? Very diverse associations, from various parts of the country and representing different sectors that, as here, have affirmed four fundamental aspects:

Firstly, they denounce the scandalous increase in the prices of production factors, which has been felt since at least the last quarter of 2021.

Fuels, energy, fertilizers, phytopharmaceuticals, seeds, animal feed, machinery, there is nothing that has not experienced increases, overwhelmingly speculative, which can exceed 200%.

There is no lack of examples of those who bought a bag of fertilizer for 9 euros and now pay 18. Or those who spent 2 thousand euros on animal feed and this year had to pay 3 thousand euros. Or who had to cut back on treatments because phytopharmaceuticals cost more than twice as much.

A path of the costs of production factors that is particularly serious for livestock producers, especially milk produces or flower growers, which will be felt when they need to heat their greenhouses.

Secondly, they complain about the brutal impacts of a very prolonged drought that reduces productivity, due to the inability to irrigate, either due to lack of available water, or the costs that this implies, which prevented the growth of pastures and fodder, which involved feeding the cattle with fodder that should only be used at the end of summer.

​A drought whose effects are immediate but will still be felt in the months that follow, more so the longer it lasts.

​A drought that will lead the PCP to propose to the Government that, in addition to other measures, it should straightaway ensure means to guarantee animal feed until the end of this year.

Thirdly, farmers protest against the imposition of prices on production by the food distribution chains that dominate the market, which either remain at previous levels, already extremely low, as if costs had not increased, or had raises that are not even enough to compensate for these increases.

​Situations that, combined, will lead thousands of producers to ruin, to the abandonment of their farms and productions, aggravating problems of depopulation and desertification that are at the origin of the scale of the fires that we are witnessing these days.

​The producers also cry out because, in the face of this situation, the Government, outpouring with announcements of millions and millions, does not provide farmers with a single cent of new money, without adding new costs or without this meaning that the money will be needed further up.

​The case of the advance payment of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) aid is clearly an example of this.

​The Government promised to make this advance payment in May, which would represent the injection of money into farms before October, a period in which, for several years, this advance has occurred, due to the various difficulties that farmers have faced.

​It didn't in May, but announced, as if it were something new, that they would do it in June. It decided on yet another highly bureaucratic process for farmers to apply for the advance, since they were already entitled to this aid.

​This week it announced, again as a novelty, the payment last Tuesday, even though only a part would be made at the end of this week. In between, they still sought to blame the Agricultural Confederations because they demanded more time for candidacies.

​Note that we are not talking about any novel support, but about receiving aid that everyone would receive in October.

​In fact, the only measures implemented are derogations and credit lines for farmers to take on even more debt. Even the cut on the tax of fuel products, not only does not follow the global support to the economy, but it is far from the proposals that the PCP tabled. Farmers will continue to pay 50% more for green diesel than in January 2021. That is why we will now present a bill that allows farmers to pay, at the pump, the average value of diesel in the last five years.

Candidacies after candidacies, bureaucracy after bureaucracy, tight deadlines to try to avoid the candidacy of many farmers, as happened with the green electricity.

​Another scandal! Through the initiative of the PCP, the institution of green electricity was approved, which should have been implemented to come into force on  January 1, 2022.

Only in May did the Government conclude the regulatory process, giving farmers 15 days to apply, objectively preventing many from doing so. To this day, no one has received a single penny.

​In all these processes the Government seems to have a fundamental criterion. Watchful eye on the deficit in public finances and see how they have least immediate impact.

​It pretends not to see that the destruction of farms will have an impact on the deficit and debt much greater than what is now accounted.

​It pretends not to understand that the difference in support announced for head of cattle (because the tender should only open towards the end of the month) to Portuguese farmers, for example in relation to our Spanish neighbours, greatly harms our competitiveness and will facilitate the entry of even more imports.

​Added to all these difficulties are those imposed under the pretext of war and sanctions that only serve the economic interests of big transnationals, with implications that are not fully measured, but that will certainly affect mainly producers and families.

​It could be said that we didn't have much exposure to Russian and Ukrainian cereals or exports to those countries, which is not entirely true.

​But witness the situation of cereals, in which the markets where we buy today, or where we started to buy, are now battled by others, look at the case of wines that not only lost a strong export channel, but now have to compete with other wines that also stopped exporting to Russia. Take the case of fruit, which will now have thousands of tons that are not received by those countries and are available on the market.

We fully understand the extent of your concerns and your indignation at the policy of a Government that lacks in action but overflows in propaganda.

We know that the problems did not start today and are not disconnected from a decades-long path of right-wing policy carried out at times by PS, at times by PSD and CDS, nor from joining the then European Economic Community and the entry into Portugal of CAP, created with other types of agriculture in mind, other than the small and medium national farming.

A CAP, in fact, whose reform is to be implemented in the various Member States, continues to sacrifice those same as always. It will maintain the unfair distribution of aid, in which 8% of large beneficiaries receive 80% of aid. And it will make those who have the biggest cuts receive the least. Observe that the very small farmers who until now received one thousand euros a year, will now receive only 500. Effects, apparently of the absolute majority!

We say this even without knowing the contents of the CAP Strategic Plan, which the Government announces has already been concluded with Brussels, but which it did not present to the Assembly of the Republic.

A situation that will contribute negatively to the already chronic deficit in the agri-food balance and our country's food dependence.

The last few years have shown how vulnerable our country is in the face of possible stoppages in air, sea or road traffic, in the face of a pandemic, in the face of extreme weather phenomena, in the face of blockades or sanctions.

Best known is the example of cereals. But we have the beef or potato situation. Foods that are part of the basic diet of the Portuguese people and for which we largely depend on imports.

We know that we will not be able to produce everything that is consumed here. But between eight and eighty there is still a long way to go.

We note, moreover, the words of those who have been telling us for years that cereal production in Portugal was not possible because it was not productive and that there was no land to be cultivated, and who now tell us that after all we must use these lands to cultivate cereals.

Almost five years have passed since the PS Government announced the Plan to increase the area of cereals and particularly wheat, here we are, worse than on that date, and with the PCP's proposals with this aim being successively rejected, as happened in the debate of the last State Budget.

It is time to move from studies, projects and announcements to practice!

The defence of national production and food sovereignty implies guaranteeing farmers, and particularly small and medium-sized farming, the conditions to maintain their production, namely as proposed by the PCP with the public purchase of production factors to be sold at controlled prices, with the flow of their products at fair prices, among other aspects. But also with the mandatory purchase by public canteens and cafeterias or those of public companies, as well as the change in the logic of public aid, linking them to production and valorising small and medium-size farming. The defence of food sovereignty, as I was saying, will continue to be a core issue of the patriotic and left-wing policy that the PCP proposes to the Portuguese people.

A policy that corresponds to the aspirations of the people, farmers and workers.

A policy that articulates support to those who produce and want to produce and that eliminates the possibility of granting support without the obligation to produce, with the defence of public services and the social functions of the State, particularly in the rural world.

A policy that prepares the country for situations of increasing insecurity and international instability, and that serves the purpose of guaranteeing food for our people.

A policy that requires the commitment of all those who want a developed, sovereign Portugal with a future.

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