A rich history

The farmers' alliance came into being in the late 19th. The history of our organization dates back to the beginning of the twentieth century, at a time when belgian agriculture was shaken by a serious crisis. With the founding of the farmers' union, the initiators wanted to provide an answer to the problems of the time. Even today, in the 21. Century, the farmers' union stands up for the interests of its members and offers new solutions to the new problems of agriculture. Read here the captivating story of our organization, which at the same time mirrors the history of agriculture and society since the end of the 19th century. The history of the boerenbond from the nineteenth century to the present day.

The following information is based on the book "ieder voor allen. De belgische boerenbond 1890-1990" by prof. Dr. L. Van molle. (french translation: "chacun pour tous").

This interesting and in-depth work (391 pp.) explains the history of the farmers' union in its historical context. In addition, we refer to the book "100 jaar boerenbond in beeld" (german translation: "100 jahre bauernbond im bild"), by patricia quaghebeur.

1890-1913: A modest beginning in difficult times

On 20. July 1890 "a farmers union" was founded in leuven. There wasn't much to this formation at first. The "peasants' union" did not yet have any legal statute, did not have its own headquarters, and did not even have start-up capital, but it had an even stronger will.

According to the statutes from 1890, the goal of the peasants' league was to build "a christian and powerful peasantry" by looking after the religious, social and economic interests of its members.

1890 was marked by a severe social crisis. Belgian industry was facing major sales difficulties and large sections of the population were unemployed. Belgian agriculture, which had provided food for the population for centuries, was suddenly threatened in its existence by cheaper imports of agricultural products from all over the world. The large landowners feared the total loss of value of their lands. And the small farmers had to watch as the price decline further reduced their already extremely modest income.

The catholic church and the catholic party of the time feared that impoverished farmers would migrate to the cities and then defect to the emerging socialist party.

In 1899, the founders, pastor jacob-ferdinand melllaert and the catholic people's representatives joris helleputte and franz schollaert, began to think about the concrete form of the organization. They envisioned "a house under the roof of which every peasant would find shelter". Within ten years, secretary mellaert continuously expanded the organization. He founded dozens of local farmers' guilds, launched the weekly newspaper "de boer", started vocational education and training for farmers, and expanded cooperative purchasing departments, raiffeisen funds and farm insurance schemes.

This laid the foundation for the economic activities of the farmers' union in the 20th century. The 21st century in the supply of compound feed, fertilizer and other means of production, as well as in the credit (savings banks) and insurance sectors.

1914-1934: organize and grow

In 1903, eduard luytgaerens, another priest, succeeded co-founder mellaerts as general secretary. Within a short time luytgaerens succeeded in organizing the internal administration (membership administration, bookkeeping, management, …). More clearly than anyone else, he recognized the weaknesses of the still young organization. From 1907, it began to organize farmers' wives, followed in 1911 by gardeners and, in the early 1920s, by peasant youth. On the eve of the first world war, the farmers' union had more than 7,000 members.

The first world war hit the farmers' union hard, but it tried to continue its work as best it could. Many guilds nevertheless had to be reestablished and rebuilt after the first world war.

After the war, luytgaeren, together with helleputte, integrated the peasants' league into the work of the christian party. At the same time, luytgaeren strengthened the christian commitment of the organization. This included u.A. Pilgrimages to scherpenheuvel and lourdes, retreats and participation in the catholic action (katholieke actie).

In a comparatively short time, the farmers' union grew into a remarkably successful professional organization. At home and abroad, the peasants' union was considered a prime example of the successful unionization of peasants. Accordingly, his structures were copied in many countries, such as z.B. In the netherlands, in canada, in argentina and even in china!

The contribution of the farmers' union to the modernization of agriculture is beyond any doubt. The farmers' union taught farmers the basics of modern farming, soil cultivation, sowing and fertilizing, as well as the principles of livestock feeding and breeding, hygiene and the processing of milk.

It is not presumptuous to claim that the significant increases in belgian agricultural yields between the two world wars were due in significant measure to the farmers' union's education and training program.

Rising membership numbers may be the best yardstick by which to measure the farmers' league's success: in 1920, the farmers' league already counted 88.000 members, and in 1930 it had about. 128.000.

In its early years, the activity of the peasants' league was limited to the provinces of brabant, limburg and antwerp. Immediately after the first world war, east and west flanders joined in. And in the course of the 1920s, commercial activities were extended to wallonia, the eastern cantons and even to northern france (with a significant proportion of flemish farmers).

1935-1945: bad times

After the good times, bad times were to come again for the bauernbund. In the turbulent 1930s, the delicate balance was upset. A new international crisis did not leave belgian agriculture untouched. Peasants grumbled and some turned away from the peasants' league because they did not believe it could turn the tide. The numerous agricultural workers also became increasingly dissatisfied. The peasants' league had not paid much attention to them and their concerns in the past; now they defected to the christian workers' movement. In addition, the middle classes began to mobilize vociferously against the farmers' union, whose buying and selling departments were a thorn in their side. The flemish nationalists criticized the peasants' league for not being flemish enough in its orientation. In the french-speaking part of the country, the farmers' union was portrayed by walloon nationalists as a dangerous invader on walloon soil. Finally, the church was no longer willing to accept the growing commercial activities of the peasants' league, while secular leaders of the organization had a hard time with the interference of the church in the politics of the peasants' league.

In short, the farmers' union has been attacked from all sides. In the midst of this chaos, middenkredietkas, a bank belonging to the farmers' union, ran into difficulties in 1934. The background was the general economic and financial crisis in europe combined with also unwise bank investments and political suspicions. For a moment, it seemed that with the crash of the kredietkas, the entire organization of the farmers' union had faltered.

It is a testament to the vitality and importance of the farmers' union that it recovered from this blow. The circumstances were anything but favorable. Agriculture continued to face difficulties until the beginning of the second world war. Moreover, domestic political instability was greater than ever and the catholic party was running out of steam. At the same time, political tensions were growing at the international level.

The second world war became a more difficult test for the farmers' union than the first world war. The national agriculture and food corporation slowly but surely threatened to gag the work of the farmers' union in a state agricultural economy based on the german model, so that the farmers' union was close to suffocation.

1945-1970: growth, investment, modernization, specialization

After the second world war, the farmers' union faced new challenges. Modernization and internationalization of agricultural markets were unstoppable. But belgian agriculture was ill-prepared for international competition. For example, the benelux merger was experienced as a major threat by farmers and the farmers' union, with the result that belgian negotiators successfully resisted the creation of a single agricultural market in the three benelux countries for years. In the meantime, great efforts were made to increase the productivity and profitability of belgian agriculture. The result was an oversaturation of the domestic market within a short period of time, so that belgium suddenly urgently needed new outlets abroad.

Against this background, the creation of the european economic community (EEC), the precursor of the european union (EU), was no longer seen as a threat but as an opportunity. The EEC created new opportunities, but also new problems. Small, non-specialized farms were no longer able to meet the high demands of market expansion; many farms had to give up. Those who wanted to continue in agriculture had to invest, modernize and specialize.

The farmers' union faced a double challenge. On the one hand, it had to modernize its education, training and extension services to meet the high demands of specialization. On the other hand, it could not and did not want to sacrifice its diverse range of social services in rural areas to the demands of new agricultural technologies.

Aveve, ABB and cera followed the economic developments of the postwar period at every turn, for better or worse. They were not only interested in providing services to the rural population, but also in "doing business".

Of the three major economic divisions, aveve, the farmers' union's buying and selling cooperative, was always closest to farmers and gardeners. ABB, as an insurance company, never limited itself to rural areas or even agricultural clientele at any time anyway, while cera gradually evolved into an all-round bank.

All three, aveve, ABB and cera, were able to expand their activities to a significant extent in the post-war period. Economic growth ultimately made possible the expansion of the farmers' union as a professional association as well as the socio-cultural work of the farmers' union.

The farmers' union and the eastern cantons

The strip of land always known in flanders as the "eastern cantons" belonged since the beginning of the 19. The will of the kingdom of prussia at the end of the nineteenth century. This changed abruptly after the first world war, when the german districts of eupen and malmedy were incorporated in 1920 by the treaty of versailles as the cantons of eupen, malmedy and st. Vith were incorporated into the kingdom of belgium.

Since the new belgian territory was very peasant, it was obvious to manage the integration of the population in belgium through a peasant organization. To this end, governor baltia, who is responsible for the new belgian territories, contacted the top management of the belgische boerenbond in leuven. It is believed that baltia assumed that communication between the german-speaking new belgians and the flemings would be easier than with the french-speaking walloons. Even more important, however, may have been that the belgische boerenbond operated according to the same (raiffeisen) principles as the rheinischer bauernverein, to which the farmers were affiliated until the territories were incorporated into the kingdom of belgium.

The farmers' union responded sympathetically to baltia's request. Thus, in most of the larger villages of the eastern cantons, savings and loan associations, sales outlets for feed and fertilizer, insurance agencies, and an agricultural advisory system based on the flemish model emerged very quickly. From the very beginning, the farmers' union has always made sure that the new belgians were served in their mother tongue.
In 1934, with the help of the farmers' union – the lowener zentralkasse granted the necessary loans and the technical service of the farmers' union drew up the plans – a dairy was founded in walhorn, which today has over 435 million. L of milk processed annually.

With the reintegration of eupen-malmedy into the german empire on 18. May 1940 the activity of the farmers' union in the eastern cantons came to a temporary end. But already in 1946, a year after the end of the second world war, the farmers' union resumed its activities in east belgium. Even today, many german-speaking belgians still credit the farmers' union for not judging anyone according to "guilt" or "innocence", according to "past" or political views, but for inviting everyone indiscriminately to participate in shaping a better future. This attitude certainly also contributed to the fact that the organization developed now very fast and everywhere new farmer guilds, purchase departments and raiffeisenkassen arose. In the fifties, the district association of farmers' guilds, the association of german-speaking farmers, the LFV and the KLJ were established. There then followed four decades of fruitful activity by the peasants' league in the eastern cantons.

In the 1970s, the farmers' union withdrew from the canton of malmedy, which had developed over time into an (almost) purely french-speaking canton and oriented itself economically and socially towards wallonia. The guilds there joined the walloon sister association alliance agricole belge (AAB).

At about the same time, the autonomy efforts were intensified in german-speaking east belgium. This resulted first in a cultural autonomy and later in a recognition of the inhabitants of the nine german-speaking communities as the third community of belgium, the german-speaking community, which includes the cantons of eupen and saint vith.

In 2001 and 2002, german-speaking farmers were unsettled by the decision of the government in brussels to transfer almost all powers in matters of agriculture to the regions. As a result, german-speaking farmers were deprived of their influence on agricultural policy practically overnight. Because the then walloon minister of agriculture happart could not be expected to tolerate the flemish-oriented association of german-speaking farmers in namur at the negotiating table.

Regarding the dilemma of the farmers in the german-speaking community, the leadership in leuven stated that the farmers' union stands by its members there and that the support of the german-speaking members is not questioned. This position was renewed in 2007 by the then new chairman vanthemsche on the occasion of an inaugural visit to the local area. The fact that the proportion of german-speaking farmers who are members of the association of german-speaking farmers (VDL) is increasing rather than decreasing, despite the regionalization of powers, is primarily due to the great commitment of the farmers' union. In this way, the farmers' union guarantees the financial and human resources for high-quality support, advice and information for its members in their mother tongue. Moreover, through the farmers' union, the members feel well represented in european and federal affairs.

It is also important that since the time of benoƮt lutgen as walloon minister of agriculture, good contacts can be maintained with the regional decision-making bodies. Thus, the VDL in namur is recognized by the cabinet as a competent and equal negotiating partner in the field of milk production. This is quite justified, as the german-speaking community hosts 11% of the walloon region's dairy farms and milks 12.5% of the regional milk volume.

The main focus of the VDL's work is still to represent the interests of local milk producers. While the focus used to be on politically controllable economic conditions, for some time now environmental issues have been taking on ever greater importance. Just think of the nitrates directive and natura 2000 and more recently the water framework directive and soon probably the air and soil directives as well.