Strengthening the food chain through a sustained listening process

Following the protests of farmers that have shaken different territories of Europe in recent weeks, a blunt truth is served on the table: the primary sector claims to be heard. The voice of discontent resonates loudly in the countryside, which from the frustration with the current agricultural policies boils other issues related to the current food system.  


In this context and under the framework of the Etorkizuna Eraikiz project, the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa continues to promote the sustainable food mission that aims to turn Gipuzkoa into a territory of advanced experimentation for a social, economic and environmental sustainable transition. 


For 3 years, in collaboration with the Provincial Council, the ALC team has woven a listening network that extends throughout the territory. This ongoing process seeks to capture the diverse perceptions, challenges and opportunities rooted in the community. Its goal is to unravel the complexities of the current food system and pave the way towards more sustainable food.  


Although Gipuzkoa has not witnessed the massive protests that have shaken other territories of the Basque Country, sustained listening and exploration of different channels such as participant observation in local markets, visits to farmhouses and production centers, 1 to 1 conversations, photographs and intranet monitoring, have contributed to the extensive analysis of the current problems. As a result, based on the segmentation of perceptions, the following ethnographic profiles offer a vision of the challenges of the current local food system, which far from being exempt, includes several of the challenges that are currently being discussed beyond the territory.


On the one hand, it is evident that the current working conditions of the baserritarras are deficient, since in many cases the effort to produce the raw material and take care of the farms is greater than the real profit from the product.


“We farmers have the tendency to sell at the price that can be sold, because if you have 2-6-50 kilos of tomato and you can't get it out, what do you do? Well, you sell it at whatever price you can.”



With respect to this issue, and connected with another of the perception patterns identified: The reality does not correspond to the ideal of the baserritarra and proximity; we import 90% of the products, without a doubt, unleashes another of the challenges identified; There is no generational replacement.

The primary sector is still seen by the new generations as a sector that involves a lot of sacrifice, where the familiarist models have been of all life and today also represent one of the barriers to develop the countryside,

there are fewer and fewer families, fewer, fewer people dedicated to the first sector (...) The families that have land are not willing to rent it or give it away.” (G_44). “We are three siblings and none of us have practiced the profession of our parents. This is normal. The generational change has to take place beyond the family and we have to facilitate it.”



Likewise, from the economic point of view, the primary sector is suffocated by the constant pressure from distributors, leaving them just enough money but which in turn does not allow for greater sustainability that favors the interest of new generations and the integration of new people into the sector, since the price of a person to support the tasks becomes unthinkable and unsustainable for the majority of producers.


In this line, these days it becomes more relevant to understand that, in order to obtain a food, it has had to pass through different hands as spaces. And is that the food system is established through a value chain that connects different links as personalities. This sometimes extensive and tortuous system also represents one of the challenges; people prefer to consume something imported at a lower price than the local.


“We ask for local and zero kilometer products, but we are buying avocados from Peru and bananas from Ecuador.”



Added to this is one of the patterns of perception that speaks to today's consumer culture and the reality is that society is not ready to give up convenience for sustainability.

In relation to the above and considering the other patterns of perception as: The solution goes through the regulation of consumption of products and prices, and there is great confusion about the mobility and food of the future. The biggest melon is opened and it is the availability of land, in Gipuzkoa specifically, it is perceived that there is a lack of land available for exploitation: 


“many times economically they also put, they raise the rent a lot, they want to make a lot of profit when it is not really credible or it is not accessible, because I think that Gipuzkoa does not have much land and the land it has is very mountainous or very steep, so in those that can be produced, people take advantage and raise the price.” 


It is also argued that the administration lacks support and a real commitment to the sector with clear opportunities and policies:


“Folklorically, the figure of the baserri is important. Yes, but no. The best lands have been destined to companies, to industries, to building and what is left for us are floodable areas.” 



On the other hand, one of the most commented challenges that is also aligned with this problem is that there is no clarity as to what local or non-local means,


“We start from the fact that the Basque Country, together with Navarre, has a production capacity of 7% of the total volume. How is it possible that local production cannot be sold? It is something I do not understand. And I'm not just talking about organic products, I'm talking in general. (...) We are talking about 7%, including Navarre, if we talk only about Gipuzkoa, then production is much less, 0.98% or something like that.”



In the midst of these challenges, it is crucial to recognize that strengthening the food chain involves not only addressing economic and labor issues, but also promoting a cultural change in society. It is necessary to promote a greater appreciation of local products and a deeper understanding of the processes involved in their production, transformation, distribution and consumption.


In this sense, it is essential to develop new policies and agreements that invite the different actors in the food sector to actively participate in the decision-making and design processes. This implies making informed decisions in real time about production models, processing methods, distribution mechanisms, regulation and standards, as well as communication with consumers.


Ultimately, strengthening the food chain through a process of sustained listening implies recognizing the interconnectedness between the different actors and aspects of the food system. Only through close collaboration and shared commitment is it possible to rebuild a fairer, more resilient and sustainable food system for present and future generations.