How Rural France Died

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The Independent Online
AS RECENTLY as the 1960s, there were three million farms in France. There are now under 700,000, and fewer every month.

In 1955, the average farm size in France was 34 acres. The average now is more than 100 acres.

The results of the 1999 census, published in July, confirmed that France is "hollowing out" - losing population from the heavily agricultural centre to south, north and west.

More precisely, there is a diagonal stripe of depopulation from the Belgian/Luxembourg borders to the Pyrenees, covering almost one-third of the country. As larger farms gobble up smaller ones, hundreds of hamlets and villages are dying. Even small towns in the Massif Central are struggling to survive.

According to the latest official projections, up to 200,000 more farms and 1,500 villages are expected to disappear in the next 20 years.

After merely paying lip-service to the problem for years, Paris has recently begun to reverse decades of agricultural policy in an attempt to stop - or at least slow down - the continued emptying of the French countryside.