Sacré Job!

photo: float, alsace

Is it a stork? Is it Alsace?

Seeing Marguerite at the Agri-Village

Paris:- Saturday, 14. June:- Reluctantly leaving the café Le Bouquet a few evenings ago I picked up one of the advertising postcards on the way out. I pick up loose information wherever I find it, even if a lot of it ends up in the trash. But this card said, 'Les Paysans du Monde Sont au Champ de Mars.'

It also poses a vital question. "When you are sipping a 'milk-grenadine' drink, do you think of Patrick and Marguerite?" The picture on the card shows Patrick thinking about - and fondling - his beautiful cow, Marguerite. A sub-text says, "Sacré job!"

Then I considered the dates printed on the card. 'Du 11 au 15 juin 2003,' it said. A quick calculation told me thisphoto: young farmers eating is right now. Today. How can this be? It was not a 'future event' for June. I didn't see it in Le Parisien or on the TV-news. Admittedly I missed the TV-news on account of sitting in the Bouquet and had forgotten to buy Le Parisien.

Young farmers with huge appetites after the Agri-Parade.

The card really has a lot of info on it. It says that Patrick and Marguerite 'make milk for the world.' But the important message was 'Agri-Parade' and 'Agri-Village,' and I supposed these were connected to the Champ de Mars.

Everybody knows that the Champ de Mars is used for all sorts of events. Since it is about 700 metres long by about 220 metres wide and it has a lot of grass on it, I supposed Marguerite might feel right at home there.

I turned over the card and read that the 'world's farmers' planned to celebrate the arrival of a 'Agri-Parade' of 36 floats at the 'Agri-Village' on the Champ de Mars at 14:00. This would be more floats than in the Techno Parade and the Gaypride thing combined. My 'Ed's' mind said, 'major event.'

But even as I ride the métro over there doubt lingers. I mean, how could the 'Paysans du Monde' have filtered into town without there being a big hoopla about it? Are they only noticeable when they're bashing globalization?

Ah, who cares? Anything is possible here. Even the weather. After being mostly sunny and hot but pretty muggyphoto: grape picker yesterday, it has decided to be mostly cloudy and pretty muggy today. When I get to the Avenue de Suffren, I do see that there is something on the Champ de Mars besides grass.

This wierd machine is actually a grape picker.

At the Place Joffre it is clear that the paysans are here and so is their parade, and a bunch of other stuff. 'Other stuff' is a plywood replica of Marguerite, I note right away. I too, ever a city lad, know what a replica of a cow looks like.

Rather than disturbing the grass of the Champ de Mars, the parade floats and the 'Agri-Village' are ranged around it. There is a lot of spare space next to the Champ de Mars, so I am a bit surprised the grass part hasn't been used for grazing cows. But this is a minor quibble.

The 'Agri-Village' is not so minor. It has five basic sectors - Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe and 'Big Spaces.' Beyond these there is a sixth sector, for France's regions - which are Bourgogne-Franche Comté, Rhône-Alps, Midi-Pyrénées, Sud-Ouest, Ouest, Est, Nord, Centre, the Massif-Central, Méditerranée and Normandie, plus the Outre-Mer.

Ranged around the edges are dozens of new tractors, and the parade floats. These are more elaborate than any I have ever seen before in France. Besides farming, young farmers seem to be France's parade float specialists. If farming doesn't pay enough, they could probably do well in the circus business.

Before I get far, the downpour starts. I manage to get a good soaking before reaching the shelter of the trees lining the Champs. As soon as I am sheltered, the rain stops.

From signs I see, the reason for this event is cleared up. The World Congress of Young Farmers startedphoto: beaujolais on Wednesday, and continued until Président Jacques Chirac made the closing speech on Friday at noon. A two-hour lunch completed the congress.

I should have watched TV-news last Wednesday. Maybe I would have seen the 'Agri-Village' then. But I see it now, starting with Latin America. There are informative signs all over, big photo-blowups, and big video screens talking clearly, and then I see my first rice paddy.

Wine is also an agri-product, usually meant to be swallowed.

I see this because I wander into 'Asia.' It may also be a 'world first' - as in the 'first' rice paddy ever to be on the Champ de Mars. It is not a big one, but the recent rain has done it no harm.

After a 'public region' laden with wine outpourings and food samples, Africa comes next. Each of the continental 'houses' is a long, narrow tent, with another line of tentlets opposite, and each features some basic items, a stage big enough for five performers, plus the photos and the info signs. Putting Africa into one set of tents isn't easy, but there is still too much to see quickly.

Put another way, this 'Agri-Village' is a big show. It says somewhere here that France's young farmers have organized it, and it shows they know what they're doing - besides farming.

The message is, the world's country people are feeding the world with an incredible variety of foodstuffs. Forphoto: mascot agri quizz example, 45 percent of the world's population is engaged in producing food. There are 1.3 billion active farmers worldwide. Meanwhile, some 600 million country people, living on the land, are under-fed.

According to FAO statistics, there are two million farmers in France, 16.3 million in the European Union, 6.3 million in the United States, 441 million in Africa and 854 million in China.

This is - I don't know what this is.

The European Union is the world's leading food exporter, but is also the world's leading importer, with imports exceeding exports by 23 billion dollars according to the WTO. France, in contrast, exports considerably more than it imports. All that cheese, all that wine, I suppose.

Yet the agricultural sector only accounts for 4.5 percent of the national economy. Of the two million farmers, only 900,000 are active. The 663,000 farms existing today are only half of those counted 20 years ago. The vast majority of farms in France are run by individual farmers. Of the 30,000 farms sold annually, only 10,000 find buyers.

Despite this apparent contradiction, it is France's policy to export the idea that developing countries should gain sovereignty over their own food production.

This is in contrast to exporting credits so that developing countries can buy food from low-cost producers in developed countries. It is also in contrast to subsidizing farm production in France, so that farmers in developing countries can't compete.

What France can't grow, it imports. Luckily for many developing countries, France produces next to no cotton, rice, peanuts, coffee or cocoa. Personally, I account for a tenth of France's importation of peanuts, and make nothing anybody can eat.

Anyway - before this gets too heavy if it already hasn't - France's young farmers have their feet firmly planted in the dirt, except when they are showing off their stuff in Paris - or having arguments in Brussels.

I wander up one side of the Champ de Mars and down the other, and somehow miss the 'Grands Espaces' becausephoto: marguerite the vache the 'Sud-Ouest' across the way beckons, followed by the 'Est,' and then I am out in front of the Ecole Militaire looking back over some of the floats that are overlooked by the Tour Eiffel.

I think what it all means - besides having to eat to live - is that a really big crowd of young farmers is perfectly capable of coming quietly to town, and then turn out to be hard to overlook if you happen to be in the right place at the right time.

This is - Marguerite, of course. Even I know it.

Also, being a lad of the city and afraid of cows unless the are the docile 'beautiful' blondes that are often on show at the Salon de l'Agriculture, it gives kind of a warm glow to see some of the young farmers responsible for my daily loaf of bread, my handfull of peanuts, my nightly bit of cheese - as well as all the cafés I have every day.

Thank you Patrick, thank you Marguerite!

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