Did the farmers fail to meet their environmental obligations as claimed by the EELV MP?

Haro in mega basins. On Saturday, October 29, around 4,000 people mobilized against the construction of a huge artificial water reservoir in Sainte-Soline (Deux-Sèvres) with a volume of 720,000 m3, equivalent to 288 Olympic swimming pools. The rally ended with dozens of injuries between demonstrators and gendarmes.

The site is part of a project to install about 16 reservoirs in the department. These basins should meet the irrigation needs of agriculture and animal husbandry. To fill these man-made reservoirs, the reservoirs are planned to be pumped during the winter months to reduce water withdrawals during the summer months and enable farmers to better cope with drought periods.

Opponents of the project believe that these huge reservoirs have harmful consequences for the environment. The collective Bassines Non Merci denounces the risk of drying up waterways, accelerated evaporation or even uncontrolled groundwater pumping. Opponents also accuse farmers of not living up to the environmental commitments they made in exchange for the right to access water from the basins.

“These farmers gathered in the cooperative in Deux-Sèvres (…) should have committed to ban pesticides, to withdraw from a certain number of destructive crops. No commitment has been fulfilled, we are cheating” , On Wednesday, November 2, the EELV deputy of Val-d’Oise Aurelien Tache announced in the Public Senate.

Did the farmers really fail to meet their obligations? A memorandum of understanding signed by the prefecture, chambers of agriculture, local authorities and environmental protection associations in 2018 requires them to fulfill a number of environmental obligations.

These can take many forms. “Transition to organic farming, use of mechanical weeding methods, increasing crop rotation, diversification of plantations, reduction of pesticide use”, lists François Pétorini, administrator of Coop de l’Eau 79, a private company that manages the reservoir infrastructure.

The results for environmental associations have been mixed so far. For pesticides, the observation is clear. During the installation of the first artificial reservoir at Mauzé-sur-le-Mignon, “no operator has committed to reducing pesticides, this file should be an example”Patrick Picaud, president of the association Nature Environnement 17, sighs. But the common commitment set for all operators involved in the project was to reduce the use of pesticides by 50%.

In a report submitted on February 9, 2022 (PDF document), the Deux-Sèvres prefecture notes a 10% reduction in pesticide use during the first phase of the project. Decrease due to conversion of single operator to organic, “None of the ordinary farmers have committed to reducing pesticides,” Michel Buntz, President of the Collective of Citizens for Respect for the Environment in the Val-du-Mignon (CCRET) emphasizes.

For Jean-Jacques Guillet, spokesman for the Bassines Non Merci collective, these meager results are explained by the nature of the protocol. “has no legal value” and with non-existent obligations “not too restrictive”. The text allows the operator to choose between implementing and reducing the use of phytosanitary products for five years. “Ecological corridors in priority areas” (for example, with blooming autumn fields). According to Michelle Buntz, it is “impossible” achieving a 50% reduction in pesticide use in this second way because “Corridor surfaces are very small compared to cultivated areas”.

On the other hand, other commitments have become more tangible results. The prefecture announced in a February report that the target for planting hedgerows had been exceeded, with nearly 18 km planted, more than double the original length. “We can’t buy anything” Of these figures, judges but Patrick Picaud, president of Nature Environnement 17. Therefore, the ecological effectiveness of these hedges can be evaluated only by the size of the developed areas, which “unknown”for lack of “transparency”.

In the absence of accurate data, measuring the achievement of environmental goals remains difficult. “The protocol envisages the creation of an observatory responsible for monitoring the obligations annually, but it is not yet operational, especially because of Covid-19,” François-Marie Pellerin, vice-president of the coordination for the protection of the Marais poiteve, the association that signed the protocol, emphasizes. A number of associations, including CCRET, have left the project’s governing bodies, denouncing the lack of transparency and assurances on environmental commitments.

“We agree that the project is not moving fast enough and that environmental commitments are therefore not warranted.”François knows Pétori. But today, only one of the 16 reserves has been built.” Badges “The project will be realized as it progresses”Coop de l’Eau defends 79 administrators.

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