Farmers take part in a blockade of the A10 highway
Paris - AFP
More than 1,000 tractors began rolling into Paris on Thursday as farmers tried to clog up the capital's roads in protest at plummeting food prices.
The first tractor arrived at the busy Nation roundabout in the east of the city, but Parisians heeded calls to avoid using their cars and traffic was less congested than normal during the morning rush hour.
Farmers on their tractors have been descending -- slowly -- on the capital from all corners of France, angry over the falling food prices which they blame on foreign competition, Russian sanctions, and a raw deal from local supermarkets and distributors.
It has taken many of them a week to reach the capital, travelling at an average speed of 35 kilometres (22 miles) an hour.
The first tractors to arrive came from the northwestern region of Brittany, a major producer of milk and pork.
Leading farmers' union FNSEA said they were expecting 1,733 tractors as well as dozens of cars and buses. Police said they had counted more than 1,300 tractors on the roads into Paris.
But many commuters took the advice of the police and used public transport instead of their cars on Thursday morning.
"There are not many traffic jams caused by the protesters. It's limited," said a spokesman for the traffic information centre.
A combination of factors, including changing dietary habits, slowing Chinese demand and a Russian embargo on Western products in response to sanctions over the Ukraine conflict, has pushed down prices for staples like beef, pork and milk.
A delegation of some 100 farmers will go to France's lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, Thursday to hand over to lawmakers "the demands and grievances of an agricultural and rural world that is on the brink of exploding and that expects a lot from its national representatives", a union representative said.
During the summer, protesting farmers around the country dumped manure in cities, blocked access to roads and motorways and prevented tourists from reaching the popular Mont St-Michel in northern France.
Farmers' unions have been negotiating with the government, which unveiled an emergency package worth 600 million euros ($680 million) in tax relief and loan guarantees in July.
But they say this is woefully inadequate, as tales of farms going under -- and in the most extreme cases of suicides -- hit the news.
The agriculture minister has estimated that around 10 percent of farms in France -- approximately 22,000 sites -- are on the brink of bankruptcy with a combined debt of one billion euros.