Elikadura Burujabetza! Food Sovereignty in the Basque Country
By Eric Holt-Giménez, Executive Director of Food First
I gave the keynote speech at EHNE—the Basque Farmers Union—national gathering in Bilbao on the northwest coast of the Iberian Peninsula last Friday. EHNE is a member of Via Campesina and brings together over 3000 family farms from Euskadi—the Basque Country.
It was a very special event for me. My Basque grandfather Fernando Giménez Gabirondo left the farm in Iturmendi, Navarra sometime in the 1930s to “do the Americas” as they say here. Like many Basques, he sent money back to help the family through the hard times. He also sent my Puerto Rican grandmother to Iturmendi so his children would be raised as Basques. Unfortunately, times were too hard and the family retreated to Madrid. Then the Spanish Civil war broke out, forcing them to flee the country on a freighter headed out of Valencia for my grandmother Mercedes’ home in San Juan, Puerto Rico. They were all eventually reunited in New York. My uncle Ernesto visited Iturmendi after being discharged from the U.S. army in WWII, but my grandfather died before being able to return. I have been back several times. While I struggle with Euskera, the Basque language, I feel a deep connection the baserritarras (small farmers) of Euskal Herria, the land of the Basque speakers.
My speech at the EHNE gathering, given in Spanish and largely taken from the Introduction and Summary of Food Movements Unite: Strategies to Transform our Food Systems, was followed by a lively discussion on food sovereignty. The farmer’s panels that followed then took up the issue in political and practical terms. There were presentations from the Brazilian Farmers Union, from Argentina, and from the Extremadura and Catalán regions of Spain.
What struck me the most was a presentation from Joseba, a Basque farmer who spoke about his CSA. Community supported agriculture is growing as rapidly here as it is in the United States (and other parts of the world). Producers and consumers get together and form their own market, set their own prices and coordinate production and consumption in ways that benefit both. Most, but not all, products are organic. The CSAs in Euskadi trade with CSAs in Catalunya and Southern Spain to diversify their weekly family food baskets. Cheeses, meat and conserves flow south while citrus flows north.
What impressed me the most was the concept of ‘support’ in Community Supported Agriculture. Last year, strong winds blew down Joseba’s greenhouses, destroying his crops. The 20 other farmers in the CSA all took turns supplying Joseba’s share of produce to consumers so they wouldn’t go without and so Joseba wouldn’t go broke. Then farmers and consumers came together to help Joseba rebuild his greenhouse. Today, he is back in business. This is the community meaning of Basque food sovereignty, he said. What a difference from the expensive crop insurance programs being pushed in the draft of the U.S. Farm Bill!
I’ll be traveling in Euskadi all week and will keep you posted on different events and experiences.