BERLIN – Thousands of farmers descended upon Berlin from the countryside with their tractors Tuesday, gathering at the capital’s landmark Brandenburg Gate and blocking traffic in protest over the German government’s agricultural policies.
About 10,000 farmers with 5,000 tractors drove into the city, with the first 1,800 heavy vehicles arriving from the surrounding state of Brandenburg before dawn.
The farmers claim new environmental limits being planned are overly restrictive and that the government is making it impossible for domestic agriculture to compete against imports, among other things.
“7.5 billion people; 200 million can feed themselves as hunters and gatherers. The rest need farmers,” read one banner, while others simply stated: “No famers, no food” and “we fill you up.”
The tractors gathered in the heart of the capital, blocking wide areas of the city with slow-moving convoys on the way in with a plan to cause more disruptions on their way out at rush hour.
Brandenburg police reported two accidents caused by cars trying to pass the lines of tractors on their way in to the city.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet in September decided on a series of proposals including tighter restrictions on the use of pesticides and herbicides to protect insects, and on fertilizers to protect groundwater.
The country’s environment minister, Svenja Schulze, said the government is willing to talk to farmers but insisted that they, too, need to play their part in protecting the environment.
“Farmers need to be part of the solution,” she told reporters in Berlin, citing the excessive levels of fertilizer in drinking water and the dramatic decline in insect numbers as issues that farmers should be concerned about.
Farmers’ leaders say the government should work with them and conservation groups to find ways to protect the environment while preserving the competitiveness of farms.
The environmental group Greenpeace criticized both sides, saying that Agriculture Minister Julia Kloeckner was trying to shift the burden onto consumers by saying they’ll have to get used to paying more for food, while the farmers needed to also help fight climate change and species extinction.
“Farms need clear and reliable guidelines and targeted recommendations,” said Greenpeace’s agricultural expert Stephanie Toewe “Then they will also have the ability to operate so that the water, animals and climate are protected.”
Frank Jordans contributed to this report.