Farmer protests in Europe increase 300% – climate rules, trade dynamics drive surge

The Trendline

Download the report


Farmers’ protests are surging in Europe as tensions mount over tightening environmental regulations, cheap food imports and shifting supply chain dynamics, according to our latest research.

Data shows that while farmer-led protests are a growing phenomenon in most regions of the world, Europe has become the global focal point for agricultural unrest. At the time of writing, 5,728 farmers’ protests had been recorded globally so far this year by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED). However, over 4,000 have been logged for Europe alone, constituting a 300% increase in incidents for the region compared to 2023 as whole.

A host of variables are fuelling farmers’ protests globally, from inflation and changes in trade flows to elections and geopolitical developments.

But data from our Industry Risk Analytics, which measures over 50 ESG and political risks – including civil unrest – for 80 sectors globally, shows that Europe is now home to six of the top 10 highest risk countries for farmer protests, including Germany (ranked 2nd), France (3rd), UK (5th), Spain (6th), Italy (7th) and Poland (10th).

While a wide range of factors are driving the rise in tensions, one key factor in particular is having a substantial impact in Europe. With the agricultural sector accounting for almost a third of global man-made greenhouse gas emissions, a growing number of governments are seeking to curb the sector’s emissions to meet reduction targets. Friction between farmers and governments is set to rise in parallel, raising the risk of disruptive protests in a growing number of countries and cities.

Why are more farmers protesting?

No single issue can account for the global surge in farmers’ protests in recent times. But the common factor among the drivers is that they have lowered or are threatening to cut profit margins.

Although higher input costs, such as fertiliser prices, can be partially passed on to consumers, tightening environmental regulations and competition from less regulated markets have proven more difficult to absorb.

Rising geopolitical risk – especially in Europe and the Middle East – has also emerged as a major driver, not least in Poland, where protesting farmers have demanded curbs on Ukrainian agricultural imports into the EU.

Given the emergence of these risk multipliers in Europe, it is unsurprising that the region has witnessed the sharpest increase in farmers’ protests. As the chart below shows, agricultural emissions have fallen markedly in recent decades, in part due to tightening EU environmental regulations. Efforts to cut agricultural emissions further are also under way, through initiatives such as the 2019 European Green Deal and the Common Agricultural Policy.

The impact of tightening environmental regulation is also amplified by the threat of competition from markets with less stringent rules. The proposed trade agreement between the EU and Mercosur (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay) is a case in point. Amid intensifying farmers’ protests in France, Macron has threatened to block the deal, underscoring the growing political potency of these demonstrations.

As shown in the chart below, European farmers would struggle to compete with imported agricultural products from external markets – even with greater alignment as part of a deal. Although the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy has mechanisms to subsidise farmers, tightening regulations mean that it is becoming more difficult to qualify for grants.

How are farmers’ protests evolving?

Our Industry Risk Analytics dataset considers not just the risk of civil unrest in each country, but also the exposure of the agriculture sector to civil unrest events.

The US ranks 1st and highest risk within the latest edition of the predictive dataset, which forecasts the likelihood of large-scale events. However, this is primarily due to the high underlying risk of civil unrest for the country in general. While ACLED figures show there were just 48 farmers’ protests in the US in 2023, there are warning signs that agricultural unrest could intensify in the coming months.

Indeed, figures from the US Department of Agriculture show that farmer incomes are set to fall markedly this year, in part due to falling direct government support. US efforts to bring down agricultural emissions rely more on incentives than in Europe, but tightening regulations could still spark protests, especially in the run-up to November’s presidential elections.

But with EU members making up half of the ten highest risk countries, it is clear the bloc will remain at the centre of farmers’ protests globally in the months ahead. While the EU has taken steps to address farmers’ concerns, such as postponing a proposed biodiversity bill indefinitely in March, European Parliament elections in June will be a focal point amid ongoing targets to cut pesticide use in half and reduce the use of fertilisers.

Although there have been fewer farmers’ protests in the UK than most of the large EU states, a rise in civil unrest risk in general in the UK, combined with growing discontent around the impact of post Brexit-trade agreements within the agricultural sector, means that farmers’ protests are becoming more likely.

Rising tensions threaten further disruption

With the drivers of farmers’ protests expanding in a wider range of countries and regions, it is clear that these demonstrations will remain a defining issue within the global risk landscape in 2024. Governments and businesses will need to prepare for the potential fallout, particularly as tensions come to the boil ahead of a host of key elections.

Download our Global Risk Agenda

We used our Global Risk Data, predictive models, and the expertise of our analysts to develop our Global Risk Agenda for the year, which identifies the top 10 risk areas to watch in 2024 and beyond. Fill out the form to download it now.

The Trendline - Global Risk Agenda 2024 report cover