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Nekasarea: a Basque network serving the everyday struggle for Food Sovereignty

A network of consumers and producers organized beyond community supported agriculture (CSA)

Jocelyn Parot, December 2010

Nekasarea is a network of organized producers and consumers that have operated in the Biscaye Province of the Spanish Basque country for the last two years. The Farmers’ Union Ehne-Biscaye, a founding member of La Via Campesina in 1996, has recently devoted a lot of time and effort to the implementation of initiatives of partnership and short-chain supplies in food production and distribution. These initiatives are inspired by the French AMAP (Community Supported Agriculture), as well as other similar experiences. In 2010, the Basque network already includes nearly a hundred farmers who organize their production and sell directly to consumers.

The Ehne Union is an historical actor of the social and political landscape at local level. Initiated during the 1970s the struggle to defend the price of the milk rapidly led it become the expression of the farmers’ fight against Francoism, and for the democratisation of society. In recent years it has become the first Farmers Union of the Biscaye province with more that 1000 members (affiliados), which represents a 60% rate of unionisation of the farmers of the region. The Union staff team is composed of ten employees, ranging from the communication team to the network management team. The employees are in charge of the operating systems for direct sales; these are organised on a partnership basis. There is an ongoing negotiation between farmers of the Union and the groups of activist consumers on the economic and social conditions, as well as the organisation of the logistics. Currently, there are about thirty consumer groups, all of whom are committed to the process and distribution througout Biscaye, but mostly in the capital, Bilbao, and its surroundings.

Like all tried and tested recipes, that of Nekasarea is simple. But it requires some experience to get things right. The network is under the wing of a Union which is anchored in 40 years of history of farmers’ struggles. It also requires the right ingredients, like those of the local land, varied as those found in the Zeanuri grocery store. And patience, as demonstrated by the project leaders as they follow training courses carried out tirelessly week after week.

1. Building an alternative aimed at restoring the true meaning of exchange

Through the Nekasarea network, Ehne aims to provide constructive solutions to clearly identified problems, through action rather than by taking a critical stance or protesting.

The Network’s values

The network is built on values that clearly resemble those of the CSA and AMAP models. The notion of shared risk is thus central, as the consumers pay for their orders when they are placed (even if it is a monthly payment), and they commit for the whole year. The price of each “basket” prepared by the network that includes the produce from several producers can be fairly expensive (up to 200 Euros per family per month for a complete basket). The baskets are delivered on a weekly basis.

The annual commitment is based on a basket that has a constant content. This helps avoid planning difficulties. Each family usually begins with a trial period of three months before committing for the whole year. The important development of Nekasarea over these two years can also be explained by a local tradition that is very ingrained. Gastronomes, local food activists and Farmers’ Unions regularly gather in “gastronomic dining clubs” of which there are many in each town in the region (there were four in the town of Durango alone). These clubs support old, local traditions.

Their first objective is to provide a possibility to exchange and create social links around a meal prepared from local products. Social links and exchange: these two terms were central to all the meetings we had. They are twin concepts that guide the actions of the Ehne Union orientation of information and training, even if as Umrafu explained to us, the golden rule of Farmers’ Union is that “the more you talk, the more enemies you have, and the more efficient you are, the more threats you receive”.

Nekasarea, a pedagogical tool aimed at serving the movement

The members have considered it is necessary to reach beyond to the experience of direct sales, and include a new dimension by making Nekasarea a pedagogic tool that serves the food sovereignty movement.

One of the key assets of this kind of trade-union based local and solidarity partnership system is that it guarantees ongoing consistency between local actions and the global dimension. The considerable work that has been done in the fields of communication and training linked to global evolution has led to an overall homogeneity among the CSA actors. This means that the new Basque partnership model has avoided becoming a kind of club for the wealthy. The network reaches beyond the “just between friends” and reaches out to society. It reaches beyond a small in-group of the initiated, to become part not only of the local community but of society as a whole.

The technical staff working in Ehne is dedicated and able to carry out training as well as being leaders. Isa is not only the leader of the Nekasarea network but also a consumer in the empowered consumer cooperative in Vittoria. As such, she manages a cooperative bar-restaurant project that follows local peasant agriculture criteria and that employs 6 people. This bar-restaurant aims to show that ecological actions are not limited exclusively to the elite but that all segments of society can organize to build alternative chains that are socially more viable.

2. Other actors of alternative chains: the case of the Zeanuri grocery store

Zeanuri is a village that holds a pleasant surprise: the centre of this little town that curls into the Pyrenees is very busy around the local grocery store. The existence of this grocery store in the village centre is a good example of a local project. It sells mainly local products, and operates through cooperation between the local authorities, local NGOs and producers. The Ehne trade union doesn’t play a central role in this project, but it has nevertheless played an essential supporting role.

The village grocery store at the heart of the revitalization of a rural project zone.

Several years ago, with the inevitable rural exodus, the municipal authorities decided to launch a competition to renew the life of this small mountain village and its surroundings.

The grocery-bar-restaurant project was launched by a young woman who is very aware of the local agricultural issues as she comes from a family of local farmers. When her father died, her brothers chose to keep all the cows in the mountains out of their love for the work more than for profits’ sake. She thought up the grocery as a direct sales’ system and a community space. The grocery store is based on a direct sales’ system: two shepherds provide ewe’s mild cheese; a vegetable producer sells her organic production. The owner herself works on her farm where she grows food mainly for her own consumption, selling any surplus in the shop. Initially Irena did everything by herself: taking care of the livestock, the daily management of the shop and the farm, selling in the shop and baking the bread. She then transmitted her knowledge to others and now she is increasingly handing on the work. Eight people are involved in the kitchen and behind the bar.

This grocery store is first and foremost a community centred space: every day works to the hourly rhythm of different activities. It is a very lively space where people gather, eat and stay in touch.

The coordinating role of Nekasarea

The Nekasarea network plays a coordinating role. It helps bring producers and the grocery store together. It also allows the members to discuss the grocery project with those who are more aware of the importance of consuming locally. This does not involve all of the inhabitants of the village who usually shop in supermarkets instead of coming into the centre of the village, says the owner. The grocery store is actually the ideal place to discuss social issues, especially those that are food-related.

CONCLUSION

Nekasarea demonstrates the social force of change that becomes possible through coherent social organization. It provides the possibility for genuine local development, the preservation of the agricultural and cultural heritage and the realization of collective projects of “better living together”.

Sources :

Bulletin International de Développement Local Durable n° 74