Every French village, town and hamlet has a road-side sign that announces its name as you drive into it (and then again, as you leave it - the exception being that there is a red diagonal line through the name of the location).
Over the last month or so we have been noticing many, many of these village signs have been turned upside down. A freak of nature? A nation-wide prank? Vandalism? Dysphasic sign writers?
Everywhere we have been recently, we are seeing these upside down signs! Whether it be in our local Charente area, or in Deux-Sevres, Vienne, the Dordogne, or even down south where we were recently in Aude, Hérault of Gard.
Well, after some investigation, it seems that this phenomena is really a quirky protest of young french farmers!
According to John Lichfield of The Local (7 December 2023, email@example.com), this is part of an agricultural "rebellion of the signs" which started in the Gard in the south of France and is now spreading across the country. It is a campaign design by the French young farmers association, Jeunes Agriculteurs, around a long menu list of grievances.
These consist of:
1. Farmers paying increased licence fees of 47 million euros in 2024 for pumping water from the ground and for pumping pesticides etc into it (the government has now cut this requirement);
2. A proposed EU treaty with South America that would bring cheap Brazilian and Argentinian beef into France;
3. The rising price of agricultural diesel fuel and delays in the payment of EU subsidies
4. No clear national strategy for balancing the needs of farming with an ecologically friendly future.
There is a demand for greater output, but the number of farms have dramatically reduced over the last two decades (from about 750,000 to 450,000), and more than half of France's current farmers will be retiring by the end of next decade. And current farms are struggling to make any profit without the current access to government/EU subsidies.
And so, this peaceful, attention-grabbing campaign has commenced to promote the grievances of young farmers - "Nous marchons sur la tête." (We are walking on our heads).
Jim lives in Brisbane, Australia, works at The University of Queensland, and enjoys visiting, reading and learning about France.