Protest convoy slams ‘water grab’ by French agriculture sector

A convoy of environmental campaigners set off from rural France on Friday to protest the construction of large-scale reservoirs they say amount to “water grabbing” by the agriculture industry.

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Five months after violent clashes in the western French town of Sainte-Soline, some 700 demonstrators on bikes and dozens of tractors set off for the capital to denounce the government-financed reservoirs.

The Sainte-Soline reservoir is the second of 16 planned in the Marais Poitevin nature reserve.

With a total capacity of around six million cubic meters, the reservoirs are being built as part of a project by a cooperative of 450 farmers which is supported by the state.

The aim is to store water drawn from surface water tables in winter, in order to irrigate crops in summer when rainfall is scarce.

While supporters say it is essential for the survival of farms in the face of the threat of recurring droughts, its opponents want a moratorium on construction to make way for an alternative project that would bring into force better farming techniques and better management of water resources.

Security operation  

Following the high-profile clashes between demonstrators and police in March, which left two activists in a coma, authorities are deploying a major security operation, including road closures and the use of surveillance drones.

Bassines Non Merci NGO and the Confédération Paysanne farmers’ union – co-organisers of the protest convoy – say the procession is intended to be “joyful” as it passes by several contentious irrigation project sites.

Les Soulèvements de la Terre, who co-organised the previous demonstrations in Sainte-Soline, have also announced their participation in the convoy, after government efforts to have the collective dismantled were blocked by the courts.

The procession is expected to reach Paris by 26 August, one day after a stopover in Orléans, headquarters of the Loire-Bretagne Water Agency, which is co-financing the irrigation projects.

Julien Le Guet, leader of Bassines Non Merci, says the protest convoy will give the French government “a unique opportunity to freeze all funding for basin projects”.

According to Le Guet, the departure from Lezay in Nouvelle-Aquitaine will enable the protesters to pass near the Sainte-Soline reservoir site, while respecting the security restrictions that police have put in place.

The local police prefecture has banned demonstrations in “the whole commune” to avoid a repeat of last spring’s violence. 

France’s massive agriculture sector accounts for up to 80 percent of water consumption at the height of the summer, and is responsible for a fifth of the country’s carbon emissions. Protest convoy slams ‘water grab’ by French agriculture sector

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