On Sunday, March 20th, some 400,000 farmers, hunters, and residents of rural Spain converged on the capital to demand policies to make rural life sustainable.
They held signs naming their professions, villages, provinces, and grievances.
“The left is killing cattle farming.”
“With wolves and bears, more empty villages.”
“S.O.S. Rural Guadalajara is dying.”
“Hunters don’t vote for traitors.”
The annual protest to rally for politics in favour of rural areas has been going on for years, but this year’s demonstration brought out a record number of participants. Organisers, principally farmers and hunters associations, estimated that 400,000 people marched en masse through several of Madrid’s principal streets. More than 1,500 buses caravanned from all parts of Spain to participate in the demonstration. Some demonstrators also came out with their tractors, sheep, horses, and hunting and shepherding dogs.
Rural residents have brought up the same issues—population loss, lack of public services and economic opportunities, excessive restrictions on traditional rural activities such as hunting and fishing, economic troubles of farmers—year after year whether the centre-left or the centre-right dominated Spanish politics. But the current government of President Pedro Sanchez, a coalition of the left Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) and the neo-communist Unidos Podemos, has been particularly detrimental to rural Spain. It banned hunting wolves—the particular grievance of cattle farmers—and has proposed animal rights laws that would restrict breeding and use of animals in rural activities such as farming and hunting. Inflation and rising energy prices compounded by the war in Ukraine also mobilised the agriculture sector.
EL Debate reports that the demonstration culminated with declarations by organisers.
Pedro Barato, president of Asociación Agraria Jóvenes Agricultores (ASAJA), the main organisation of farmers in the country, asked Sánchez to fire “the ministers who attack agriculture, livestock, bullfighting, and the rural world in general.”
Miguel Padilla, general secretary of Coordinadora de Organizaciones de Agricultores y Ganaderos (COAG), the first professional agrarian organisation at the state level in Spain, appealed to the general population: “We ask for support for the 47 million Spaniards, just as we did during the pandemic, because we fill the empty villages.”
Padilla demanded that the government intervene in energy, fuel, and raw materials prices. He also pleaded that the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) be made more flexible so that “the millions of hectares in Spain can be cultivated, and that speculation be stopped,” in order to make farming profitable.
Ángel Villafranca, president of the Spanish Agro-Food Cooperatives raised the decibels: “We cannot have a green CAP in red numbers.” The countryside needs “tools to continue feeding the population,” he added.
Politicians from the centre-right Partido Popular and Ciudadanos, as well as the right VOX came out to show their support, though the demonstration was not aligned with any political party, according to organisers.