Norwegian farmers stage a bread blockade for higher government subsidies 2012

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Timing
Time Period:  
2012
2012
Location and Goals
Country: 
Norway
Location Description: 
Protests took place in many local areas throughout Norway, but were coordinated on a national scale through the National Farmers Union.
Goals: 
To increase government agricultural subsidies to 2.2 billion kroner.
 

In late April and early May of 2012, the Norwegian government and the National Farmers Union were negotiating about governmental support for agriculture. The National Farmers Union asked for 2.2 billion kroner in subsidies and other support to farmers, but when the government offered only 900 million kroner ($152 million USD) the union cut off the negotiations completely—the first time the union had done so since the year 2000. The union argued that the proposed government subsidies would have widened the wage gap between farmers and other sectors of the economy. In 2012, farmers were earning 169,000 kroner less than the average annual income in other sector. With the proposed subsidies in place farmers’ annual incomes would have risen by only 13,000 kroner, while other sectors would have seen an average 17,000 kroner rise in income. The National Farmers Union stated their support for a variety of nationally-coordinated, local-level direct actions in the days to come.

On 13 May 2012, multiple groups of farmers in western and northern Norway obstructed major roads, using tractors to blockade and slow traffic. Farmers also distributed eggs and pamphlets explaining the protest action to motorists as farmers permitted them passage through the blockade. The next day, dairy farmers emptied milk into the streets in protest in Bergen. One group in Hordaland County tethered a cow outside of the local council building, stating that the cow had not been milked that day and that it would be up to politicians to ensure that she was. Groups of farmers organized by the National Farmers Union also staged temporary symbolic kidnappings of mayors from five counties.

The National Farmers Union’s main action occurred on 15 May 2012. Farmers blockaded Norway’s four largest mill sites in order to prevent the delivery of flour for milling. The union also publicized the blockade heavily and encouraged consumers to stock up on bread ahead of the impending bread shortage created by the protest. Only a few months before, a genuine shortage of butter had cleared shelves nationwide and been the subject of national controversy. Many stores noticed sharp increases in business and had to order extra bread to keep up with consumer demand.

Many media figures and private citizens criticized this action. The Aftenposten, for example, published the response of a retired lawyer, Olav Klingenberg, who argued that farmers should blame their agricultural cooperatives and use their ownership in these groups to increase their earnings, rather than seeking more governmental aid. One local farmers’ group in western Norway independently organized an action on 18 May, blockading the distribution center of their local newspaper, the Sunnmörsposten. They protested the newspaper’s limited coverage of their actions and the financial issues at stake in their campaign. Nils Bjørke, leader of the National Farmers Union, denounced the blockade. Bjørke also stated that the national union did not support the Aftenposten protest and had not been involved in its organization.

Despite the unpopularity of the bread blockades and the public admonishment of the 18 May blockade, the National Farmers Union campaign won some concessions from lawmakers in parliament, including an increase in tariffs on imported agricultural and food products that encouraged consumers to choose domestic products. However, the farmers did not secure any dramatic increase in subsidies.

Research Notes
Influences: 

None known

Sources: 
Berglund, Nina. “Tempers rise over bread and butter.” Views and News from Norway. 15 May 2012.

Berglund, Nina. “Farmers urged to demand more from their powerful cooperatives.” Views and News from Norway. 15 May 2012.

Berglund, Nina. “Farmers in trouble after latest protest.” Views and News From Norway. 18 May 2012.

Berglund, Nina. “Minister Caught in Real Food Fight.” Views and News from Norway. 7 November 2012.

Lowe, Kristine. “Norwegian farmers take action against regional for ‘insufficient’ coverage.” Kristinelowe.blogs.com. 18 May, 2012.

Sandelson, Michael. “Norway farmers protest meagre pickings.” The Foreigner. 14 May 2012.

Smith, Lyndsey. “Farmers disrupt bread production.” The Foreigner. 15 May 2012.

Staff, The Local. “Norwegian farmers launch bread blockade.” The Local. 15 May 2012.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Mar Firke 16/02/2014