It’s time to make legislation for artisanal farmers more flexible

Since we started this blog we knew this was an opportunity to change and improve the current situation. We could not ignore the chance to open a debate about small artisanal farmers and the realities of their situation and create a place for an exchange of opinions and views. “A sanction an opportunity” was born on the 25th of December and concludes today. As we announced at the beginning of this blog, we knew that this topic deserves a more detailed analysis, but we are satisfied that the competent authorities, the Basque Government and the three Local Councils, which manage the creation of legal frameworks for artisanal farmers, have shown goodwill and have taken up the baton.

The next step is for our demands to be made real. We need to define what a small artisanal farmer is and to give these farmers more flexible legal tools so they are able to survive. We hope that the voices of the artisanal fishers and local farmers and their demands do not fall on deaf ears. The Basque Government has been challenged to create an Artisanal Decree. The Basque Administration has recognised the cultural, social and sustainable values of artisanal agriculture and the necessity of facing the situation of these artisanal farmers. The platforms Euro-Toques and Slow Food, will continue their work promoting this area.

During these months continual signs of support have been given by anonymous people, committed consumers or farmers worried by an uncertain future, and also by internationally well known chefs, like Mr. René Redzepi, Mr. David Chang, Mr. Joan Roca, Mr. Ferran Adrià, Mr. Juan Mari Arzak or Mr. Pedro Subijana among others. They believe that local sustainable and artisanal products have an added value.

Which is the main preoccupation for these local farmers? There is an unanimous answer. The Legal barrier, the lack of demand, the costs of implementing new procedures, the lack of knowledge of sales options, and finally the complexity of the associated technology and the small size of the farmers turnover.

The farmers demand more flexible legislation concerning sanitary matters and new sanitary authorisations that make the artisanal agriculture viable.  Finally, Public awareness-raising campaigns and Institutional support for local products. The current legislation is focussed on  farmers with huge turnovers and the industry in general.

What solutions are there? Perhaps, a common legislation for large industry, medium or small artisanal farmers but with specific recommendations for the small sized artisanal group and a more flexible interpretation of the legislation. Perhaps a special quality logo indicating that artisanal products comply with the minimum sanitary required conditions. Perhaps specific controls for local products.

The reality is that consumers are giving more and more importance to healthy and natural products. Products that have their origin clearly marked and are respectful to the environment.

It is time to move on.

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How do we want to feed ourselves?

When it comes to our food, we increasingly want locally produced food, that comes from sustainable sources and has a guarantee of the quality and origin of the product. The consumer wants to know what they are eating, where the product comes from and they also want to be involved directly in the chain of production. Direct sales between small producers and consumers are increasing and Consumer Associations (groups of people that club together to buy fresh produce) are a reality. Given this backdrop, the concept of food provenance, better known as Food Sovereignty, is growing,  creating tension between militant groups and skeptical groups.

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Defending and defining artisanal agricultural products

A consumer that is really committed to local agricultural products, free of transgenics and elaborated according to sustainability criteria, has met a small artisanal farmer from Oiartzun to debate about the necessity of defining what a small artisanal farmer is and make comparisons between small, medium or industrial producers, as the three types can not be regulated with the same legislation. There is a big difference between the large scale producer and the small farmer that supports local traditions, local culture and has a lower production volume. There is space for both of them in the market but it is important to know the position each one occupies and what their necessities are regardless of economical and political interests. Continue reading

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Direct sales and committed customers

He goes to Orio’s market every week. Just like every Tuesday afternoon, he unloads baskets with plenty of vegetables and eggs, as well as milk and cheese produced in a farm close to his own. He is a 33 year old Agricultural Technical Engineer. His allotment in Aia produces vegetables for 35 customers. He has promised to deliver fresh seasonal products throughout the year. He has no greenhouse.
This small farmer has been selling directly to the consumer for two years, now. He has regular clients, as he says this is the only way to organise the production and to rely on agriculture for a living. He meets with his clients two or three times a year to explain how the allotment is going and to know which products are the most demanded. Direct selling to the consumer is the only way to earn a living. Direct selling is becoming more popular because of  the current economic situation and the necessity of a more sustainable society. Continue reading

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A greener agriculture

The Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have recently voted for a transition to a greener agriculture sector: they approved that 30% of the direct payments made to farmers in the future will be given to farmers that apply certain ecological practices. This is one of the main reforms to the common agricultural policy (CAP). The European Parliament agriculture Commission has voted on more than 8000 amendments as a result of four legislative reports that make up the reform of the CAP for the period 2014-2020. The amendments include changes in the remuneration system to farmers and to rural development policies.  
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New alternatives for the Idiazabal cheese (part II)

The economic and social crisis has also reached the countryside. There are many livestock farms that are currently closing because being a shepherd is no longer profitable and because of the economic difficulties of industrial producers, which are late in paying for the milk they purchase. The current situation is that there are families that are abandoning the shepherding. In the Basque Country and Navarra, there are 417 livestock farms that farm the latxa breed of sheep in the A.O. of the Idiazabal cheese and 124 of them, are also cheese producers. But this crisis brings changes. Continue reading

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Idiazabal, gastronomic and cultural value (part I)

What happens when you mix culture, values, small farms, artisanal producers and their respective interests? The Idiazabal cheese, well known all over world, is only made with milk from the latxa breed of sheep, and to a lesser extend with milk from the carranzana breed. These two breeds of sheep, found in the Basque Country and Navarra since time immemorial, are linked to the same culture and are subject to the same environmental management. The small sized sheep flocks adapt to the terrain and to the idiosyncrasies of basque farms. This way the environment and its way of life and production values stay alive.   Continue reading

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Artisanal production in times of crisis

La Llueza is a duck farm located in Espinosa de los Monteros, just north of Burgos. They make foie-gras in the traditional way, with everything produced totally on their own farm. The ducks, brought from France when they are one day old, live in the open air, roaming freely in the local fields in a farm which blends totally into the natural environment.

The owners of this farm, a young couple from Bilbao, decided one day, to change their way of life and move to the countryside to become small artisanal producers. They wanted to give priority to the quality of the product and decided to control the elaboration and production of this product from start to finish. Continue reading

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Zero risk does not exist

Everything is a question of good will, and food safety legislation is no different. Something is brewing, that will lead to better laws for the small artisanal producer. In the Basque country, they are considering modifying legislation, that deals with raw ingredients, that is products that have not been altered in any way. Continue reading

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It is not a matter of size

 It is difficult to define what is a small local food producer or farmer is and what laws apply to these artisanal farmers. There is no legislation, neither national nor international, that defines artisanal and family production, from the point of view of numbers about size, although everyone, nowadays, has a general idea of what an artisanal agriculture or farmer is. The Common agricultural policy (CAP) that directs agriculture, farmer and food production in Europe, nor autonomous communities, nor the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) knows how to define what an artisanal producer is. The issue is complicated because it depends on the type of crops and geographical areas concerned. A farm with 15 cows in A Coruña, Spain, might not be considered  small, but however  it is considered small  in Cordoba. Continue reading

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