Photo: CTV News
Thousands of farmers gathered in central Holland on Wednesday to protest the Dutch government’s plans to curb emissions of nitric oxide and ammonia, drive their tractors across the Netherlands and restrict traffic on major highways.
The protest was organized earlier this month after the government announced nationwide targets for reducing emissions, which sparked anger from farmers demanding their livelihoods – and those of thousands of people working in the agricultural services industry – are at stake.
The government called it an “inevitable transition” and imposed emissions reductions of up to 70% in many places close to protected natural areas and as high as 95% elsewhere. The government has been forced to act after courts in recent years began blocking permits for infrastructure and housing projects because the country lacked its emissions targets.
Early in the afternoon, many had arrived at a green field in the small agricultural village of Stroe, about 70 kilometers east of the capital Amsterdam, where a stage had been set up for speakers to address the audience, and music blared out of loudspeakers while children jumped in a giant inflatable pig.
Farmers honked with the horns of their tractors as they drove into the field, where a banner on a truck read in Dutch: “What The Hague chooses is deeply sad for the farmer,” a reference to lawmakers in the city that houses the Dutch parliament. . Another banner on a tractor said, “We can no longer be stopped.”
The national infrastructure authority urged motorists to delay the journey as slow-moving convoys of tractors defied calls not to use highways as they drove towards the demonstration.
In The Hague, a couple of dozen farmers and their supporters, some wearing T-shirts with the text “No farmers, no food”, gathered for breakfast early Wednesday before going to the protest.
“This is where the rules are made,” said dairy farmer Jaap Zegwaard, who parked his tractor on the outskirts of a city park. “I was asked to come here and provide breakfast so we can show that we are food producers, not pollution producers.”
The ruling coalition has earmarked an additional € 24.3 billion ($ 25.6 billion) to fund changes that are likely to cause many farmers to drastically reduce their livestock numbers or get rid of them altogether.
The plans, to be carried out by provincial governments, have been thwarted even by members of Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s own party and other members of his coalition. The provincial governments have been given a year to formulate plans to achieve the reduction targets.
A government legislator, Tjeerd de Groot, tweeted that he had planned to attend to discuss the plan with the farmers, but canceled his trip on the advice of a state security agency.
“Does the tractor law apply in our country?” he tweeted.
Agriculture is a key sector of the Dutch economy with exports worth almost 105 billion euros last year. But it costs to produce polluting gases, despite farmers taking steps to reduce emissions.
Zegwaard said farmers were ready to talk about how they could reduce emissions, but protested that the industry took most of the blame.
“Now the agricultural sector is being dismissed as a major polluter and that is not true,” he said.