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Belgian farmers angered by Colruyt's land purchase plans

Illustration picture shows the logo of Colruyt Group at the Colruyt Group offices in Halle (BELGA PHOTO, THIERRY ROGE)
13:13 05/10/2020

Belgian retailers, the Colruyt Group, have announced that they have established an operating company called Agripartners to further develop the group's existing farmland and acquire new cultivation areas. The announcement has caused quite a stir in the agricultural world and led to protests from farmers in Wallonia.

“Colruyt’s land-buying policy will weigh heavily on the market, which is already very tense,” José Renard, secretary general of the Walloon Federation of Agriculture (FWA), said in a statement. “Land prices are already the target of speculators and they are soaring, to the point that it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, for a young farmer today to start or take over the family farm. There is a way to source from local producers without depriving them of their independence.”

The Colruyt Group said it was surprised by the reactions, explaining that its land purchase is part of a strategy of anchoring supply at the local level.

“The Colruyt Group is a player on the Belgian market,” a spokeswoman said. “As such, it wants to offer as many local Belgian products as possible. We already source as many fruits and vegetables in Belgium as we can. In this way, we want retailers to focus even more on Belgian products. We want to ensure Belgian supplies and encourage its availability.”

Colruyt says it does not want to cause conflict but to build partnerships. “The intention is to work with independent farmers,” she added. “They will not be 'employees' of the Colruyt Group and they will have guarantees that their product will be purchased at an agreed price and by a partner it knows.”

Some farmers, like Dominique Lebrun, who operates a 100-hectare farm in Brabant Walloon, will take some convincing. She wants to fully maintain her independence and was angered by Colruyt's plans which she equated with a return to the feudal system of the Middle Ages.

“They want to work with independents, but that doesn't mean anything,” she said. “They will decide what to plant, when, how and who will set the specifications. And we will have to go along with that without any discussion. They will own the land and be masters of it. They are the lords and we are the serfs. There is no way we will accept that. There are enough producers in Wallonia to supply them with quality products to meet their demand. You don't have to turn us into agricultural workers.”

Colruyt refuted the idea that they would turn landowners into employed growers for the supermarket chain and reiterated its claim that it is looking to cement working partnerships with farmers, not take over farms and destroy livelihoods.

“We want to enter into this project along with the growers. We certainly don't intend to push players out of the game,” the spokeswoman concluded. “We will, of course, continue to work with the Belgian auctions and other suppliers. This initiative complements those supply flows. It's an evolution, not a revolution.”

 

Written by Nick Amies