Farmer’s Revolt in Italy

In the past month, several revolts with farmers as protagonists have shaken Europe and have also arrived at the heart of the European Union to make their voices heard. Farmers from all over the 27 member countries coming from different contexts and having different needs related to their specific production, gathered together to protest against the complex situation that they live in, due to different reasons and actors. However, considering the differences, they all have in common some criticisms about some elements of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

What is the CAP?

The CAP is a common policy for all EU countries in the agricultural sector, managed and funded at the European level from the resources of the EU’s budget. The aim is to support farmers and improve agricultural productivity, as the EU still remains the biggest producer and exporter of agri-food products in the world. The CAP supports farmers through a range of policy measures which include market measures to stabilize agricultural markets, rural development measures and direct payments to farmers per hectare/animal. According to the statistics, every year more than 6 million beneficiaries receive direct payments.  Farmers receive financial support based on the principle of “conditionality” i.e. that they adopt practices beneficial for the climate and the environment. Among these practices, there is crop rotation or diversification and the devoting of at least 4% of the arable land to non-productive features (except smaller holdings) to preserve soil potential.

The first CAP was launched in 1962 and the new one for the period 2023-2027 entered into force on 1 January 2023 and brought with it several new elements. First of all, the new CAP is strongly linked to the European Green Deal and the Farm to Fork strategy, which set many ambitious targets concerning environmental protection. The strategy “one-fits-all” has been abandoned since every country had to propose a Cap Strategic Plan (CSP) outlining how to reach the EU goals but according to the specificities of the territory. Member nations had to incorporate into their CAP Strategic Plans the new components of “eco-schemes,” which support practices such as organic agriculture, agro-ecological methods, precision farming, agroforestry, or carbon-neutral agriculture, alongside enhancements in animal welfare. It is stipulated that member nations must allocate a minimum of 25% of their CAP direct income support budget towards the eco-schemes. Farmers are not obliged to include eco-schemes in their plans, but they could receive specific payments if they do it. Another new element introduced in the 2023-2027 CAP is the “social conditionality” that links direct payments to the respect of decent social and labor conditions.

What about Italy?

In Italy the agricultural sector plays a pivotal role, contributing to the 2% of the national PIL and the 15% considering the entire agrifood system. Because of the different climatic characteristics of the territory, Italy is one of the main producers of agrifood products, it has the highest number of agri-food products with Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) recognized by the EU and it is the main producer of wine at the global level. The European Commission approved the Italian CSP on the 23 of October 2023. Italy has dedicated over 10 billion euros of the plan’s budget to climate and environmental initiatives. It has implemented 34 voluntary schemes to compensate farmers for adopting environmentally friendly practices, such as reducing fertilizer and pesticide use, preserving biodiversity, and soil conservation. Additionally, around 2 billion euros will be allocated to organic farming, aiming to increase the organic farming area to 25% of agricultural land by 2027, aligning with the goals of the European Green Deal.

Nowadays in Italy, there are more than 1 million farms and the majority are small family-run farms. However, it is important to underline that the Italian agricultural sector has experienced huge changes in the past 40 years. According to ISTAT, over 38 years from 1982, nearly two out of three agricultural enterprises have disappeared. The decline has been more pronounced in the last twenty years: the number of agricultural enterprises has indeed more than halved compared to 2000 when it was close to 2.4 million. As a consequence of the faster decrease in the number of agricultural enterprises compared to the land area, the average size of agricultural enterprises has more than doubled². Moreover, the number of farms managed by young people is still very low².

Farmers’ revolts in Italy have been organized by groups of private citizens. Indeed, the main trade association “Coldiretti” did not participate in the revolts and was explicitly criticized for its position and for its past contribution to drafting agricultural policies that are considered ineffective. Manifestants, non-aligned with any specific political party, gathered in groups such as the “Coordinamento Riscatto Agricolo” and “Comitati Riuniti Agricoli – Agricoltori traditi”, united under the symbol of the Italian flag. Even these days, they keep protesting, asking directly for real changes in agricultural policies at the national and European level. Among the requests, there is the replanning of the Green Deal that set very ambitious goals which are difficult to implement for small farmers; the ban on imports from third countries where there are not the same sanitarian rules; the abolition of the obligation to leave the 4% of the arable land because it has big consequences, especially on small farmers and to maintain the subsidy system for agricultural diesel that will be reconsidered and likely revoked by 2026³. According to their statement, “we strongly demand that the rightful value of our products be acknowledged. Today, the majority of the fruits of our labor are undervalued, revenues fall significantly short of production costs, and unfortunately, this has persisted for decades: we do not seek subsidies, we only ask for the dignity of a fair price”⁴.

Indeed, selling below cost to producers results from an unfair pricing policy dictated by market forces that have compelled producers to sell at prices lower than production costs. According to the president of AIAB (Italian Association of Organic Farmers and also part of Via Campesina), farmers are squeezed on multiple fronts: from bureaucracy to constant increases in fuel and energy prices, to extreme weather events⁵. Similarly, according to Viller Malavasi, regional representative of Copoi (Coordination of Italian Horticultural Producers), “the cost of production must be recognized as the starting point for the income of every farmer. And this figure should not be given to producer organizations or cooperatives, but to the producers themselves, otherwise, those who work in the fields will never have anything left to survive”⁶. A clear example is the dairy supply chain, where farmers have been protesting for years about the steadily decreasing purchase price dictated by large multinationals like the French Lactalis, the leading primary purchaser of national milk with the brands Cademartori, Galbani, Invernizzi, and Parmalat.

The CAP is of course under the criticism of the farmers, not only in relation to stringent environmental regulations but also as a tool itself that seems to benefit mainly large companies rather than small producers. Therefore, while the CAP can be a useful tool to ensure a certain income for a sector like agriculture, particularly influenced by uncontrollable variables such as climate or extreme events, it could certainly be further reformed and improved. What is evident from these revolts is that small farmers are struggling to survive and that this is a common condition all over Europe and urgent interventions are needed to support the ecological transition in a fair way that does not penalize farmers. 




European Commission, “A greener and fairer CAP”

Eco-Schemes explained

Conditionality explained

European Commission, “Approved 28 CAP Strategic Plans – Summary overview for 27 Member States, Facts and figures”

European Commission, “Feeding Europe: 60 years of common agricultural policy”