Seven Slow Food Presidia and an alternative agricultural model. In a video, Slow Food goes on a discovery of the French Basque Country and its products…
The French Basque Country is enclosed between the Bay of Biscay and the Pyrenees, between the coastal towns of Bayonne and Biarritz, the Iraty mountain range and the slopes of the Aldudes valley, only 40 km from Pamplona and the Spanish border. Following the winding roads, between forests and cultivated fields, the signs of Basque cultural identity are strong: houses and farmhouses with characteristic white walls and red shutters (these farms lend their names to the families that live there), seashells made of stone to indicate to pilgrims the way to Santiago de Compostela, churches in the center of the village and, nearby, a wall where the Basque ball game pelota is played.
Here, incredibly, biodiversity has been preserved: local breeds, indigenous varieties, traditional processed products (like apple cider) and raw milk cheeses. These are products of identity, a symbol that another agricultural model is possible. The recipe is simple and is explained in a video created by the producers involved in the project Amalur (Terra Madre in Basque), which was established after a meeting with the Slow Food network and Terra Madre.
Christian Aguerre, previously employed by an international organization, currently a Kintoa Basque pig breeder, explains: “When you are an activist for the Basque identity like I am, you are also an activist for cultural biodiversity in France and in the world. And this is what we do, in agriculture too: we cultivate the differences that are our history and heritage.”
Faced with specialization, Christian and his colleagues have chosen diversification. Faced with intensive production, the have chosen to decrease: to exclusively sell what the farms can produce and limit the quantity so as not to saturate the market. Faced with the most productive breeds and varieties, they have chosen pigs, sheep, cows, apples and cherries that have always been cultivated and have adapted to the land and climate. Faced with isolation they have chosen to collaborate and create an interconnected network (resulting also from the traditional assertive regional spirit and strong identity) and have created projects like Idoki, a brand and a charter for small-scale producers. The 100 or so members of Idoko are farmers by trade, who follow sustainable production practices and self-limit their production and land size in order to guarantee work to others, with a maximum of four members on each farm. They directly process the cultivated products and guarantee the sale of at least 50% on the farm, at local markets or Idoki shops.
Today seven of their traditional products have become Slow Food Presidia; the Heirloom Itxassou cherry varieties, the Kintoa Basque pig, the Basque Pyrenees mountain cheeses, the Manex Tête Noire lamb, the Basque Grand Roux corn, Basque Country and Seignanx mild chili pepper and ancient varieties of apple for cider production. “I am a farmer here in the Basque Country, a grower and a cheese producer; our problems are common throughout the world,” explains Jean Bernard Maitia, a Manex Tête Noire Lamb farmer and cheese producer. “I think the best solution would be to share these problems and together work out how to solve them.” There are examples of cherry producers united against the association Xapata and pig farmers from the Aldudes valley who have given life to the Bélaun collective, and a common processing and sales point.
“The ultimate objective is to adapt the agricultural system to the ecosystem, advising what suits the country, the landscape, the climate, the soil, to do what the farm proposes until a balance is found,” concludes Jon Harlouchet, Basque Grand Roux corn grower. “For me soil is an opportunity and it should be passed on with all its capital, just as I have received it.”
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