site.btaUPDATED Farmers Stage Another Protest in Sofia with Demands for Increased Support, Minister Says Protest Is "against National, EU Legislation"
Bulgarian livestock and greenhouse farmers gathered for a new round of protests in Sofia on Thursday, demanding increased aid. They rallied outside the Ministry of Agriculture and Food. The protest is organized by the United Bulgarian Stockbreeders Association, the National Union of Cattle Breeders in Bulgaria, the Institute of Women Farmers, the Association of Buffalo Breeders in Bulgaria and the Bulgarian Greenhouse Growers Association.
Agriculture Minister Kiril Vatev commented for the press that "absolutely every demand that complies with the laws and regulations has been fulfilled and this protest is against the Bulgarian and European legislation".
"The demands of the protesters are not justified and in fact we have done well above what they demand, with this additional aid for energy costs, which we submitted for notification one or two days ago," he said.
He also said that the protestors "are not the face of Bulgarian agriculture and livestock farming". "Those who are in the market, who are succeeding in the market, are not here. If you look closely at the footage, you will see that there are among them people who have nothing to do with agriculture," said the Minister.
The protestors' demands are the same as those raised during last week's demonstration in the capital. They want the 2024 state budget to have an allocation to compensate them for the consequences of the war in Ukraine and to make money available for "de minimis" aid; the type of aid contingent on a farmer's output to be increased back to last year's level; and the backlog of overdue payments related to the Ukraine war to be cleared.
The Agriculture Ministry put out a statement where it answers the protestors' demands one by one, listing the measures that have been taken to increase the support for various groups of farmers.
Dimitar Zorov of the National Union of Cattle Breeders in Bulgaria denied the Agriculture Ministry's claims that the organizers had threatened small and mid-sized farms with closure unless they joined the protest. "We don't have levers for such pressure," Zorov said. He accused the Ministry of using disinformation and manipulations.
Asked to comment a newly announced aid for energy costs to farmers, he said that they are not yet familiar with what this aid is about and that anyway energy is not the biggest cost item for farmers.
While the protest was on, the Agriculture Ministry circulated a written position on the demands of the protesting organizations, in which it lists the measures taken to increase support for farmers. These include:
- BGN 450,350,000 provided in the 2024 State Budget Bill (through the budget of State Fund Agriculture) for support to farmers, including de minimis aid;
- BGN 442 million in additional funding has been requested by the Agriculture Ministry from the Finance Ministry. If granted, BGN 426 million will go for aid to support the liquidity of farmers to overcome the negative economic impact of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, and BGN 16 million will be for compensating the costs for irrigation;
- coupled aid provided according to the EU plan for various interventions based on the output;
- an increase in the number of farmers and cattle eligible for aid (409,224 cattle and 14,580 buffaloes kept by 6,065 farmers in 2023, up from 3,463 farmers for 160,442 cattle and 3,227 buffaloes in 2022).
The Agriculture Ministry recalls that on November 21, 2023 the EC approved an amendment to the Temporary Framework, extending its application period until June 30, 2024 and increasing the maximum amount of aid for an enterprise active in primary agricultural production from EUR 250,000 to EUR 280,000. The aid was approved by the EC earlier on Thursday and will be paid out in December, following a decision by the Board of State Fund Agriculture.
In 2023, the Ukrainian measure supported nearly 35,300 farmers in the fruit, vegetable and livestock sectors, including bee farmers.