The parish as a basic territorial unit in Galicia (2) What are parishes like today?

The territorial structure of Galicia, in which parishes and villages are the basic cells of its organization, kept its productive character almost intact until the mid-20th century. The community of inhabitants is what defines the way of inhabiting the territory, as well as its co-evolution with society and nature. In Galicia, there is no greater influence on the organisation of the territory than that of its own inhabitants. Neither the State, nor the Church nor the market have affected the ways of inhabiting the territory as much as the needs and uses of its inhabitants. Hence, at present, roughly 1.7 million Galicians are owners of rural properties, two thirds of the population. It is also the reason why the large forested areas have survived in the hands of the local communities, becoming communal forests which account for 22% of the forested area of Galicia, and up to 36% of the Barbanza region.

Access to water or adaptation to the different environments or soils may have led to excessive fragmentation of productive land which, in view of development, is considered inefficient. This debate has taken place in our society until it was collectively assumed that this form of settlement in the territory is the result of a supposed backwardness. By paying attention again to the farmers who inhabited the territory, learning from that collective intelligence, we will be able to understand the logics that existed, the dependencies and the innovation mechanisms that occurred throughout a co-evolutionary process of society with its territory.

The relationship between the inhabitants and their territorial support has undergone the greatest transformations since the mid-20th century. Some of these changes have diluted and distorted the very clear structure that the villages and parishes traditionally presented, resulting in the disappearance of their self-sufficiency.

This “old Galician agrarian system”, studied by Bouhier in the sixties, has suffered great alterations, motivated in great part by the Dictatorship, the Green Revolution and the EU’s agricultural policies. As Lourenzo Fernández Prieto points out, “Today’s Galicia, as seen by a contemporary agrarian historian, is a territory dominated by rural and agricultural abandonment: by the abandonment of the rural environment and the disintegration of the territory. From the perspective of a peasant of a certain age with experience and memory, a peasant by trade or by origin, it is an unused territory”.

Even so, today we can easily identify several areas where there used to be the productive way of life. It is possible today to find populated places where the territorial base is abandoned and vice versa, where larger producers are looking for productive land in depopulated territories. Based on the classification elaborated by Colectivo 1aun (2017) in the framework of the summer course “Habitar O Campo en Galicia”, the current lifestyles could be classified in seven categories:

Adaptation of the diagrams elaborated by Colectivo 1aun about the current ways of life in the rural areas of Galicia for "Habitar o Campo en Galicia"
  • Productive: Its main activity is in the primary sector. Land exploitation is usually different from the traditional uses, since it has a greater scale and presents more specialization. It maintains the house as the structuring element of economic activity.

  • Hybrid: It complements its activity in the primary sector with activities of another nature, necessary for domestic maintenance. Its territorial impact is generally less than that of the producer, given the non-exclusivity of the primary sector as an activity, but it is maintained at high levels and is usually supported by traditional farms, which guarantee organic forms of production not affected by the development jump. As demonstrated by Carral and Carreira (2014), the so-called “invisible agriculture” is a large economic component that is not counted in the official statistics.

  • Retired: A modality that does not substantially transform the territory, although it contributes to maintenance of the organic (traditional) forms. In this case, the inhabitants carry out small-scale agricultural tasks.

  • Temporary: In this case the users are not regular inhabitants, although they come frequently, establishing social ties with the rest of the village. They also establish a direct relationship with the physical support by carrying out maintenance tasks and sporadic exploitation of the productive land.

  • Non-agricultural: This is the case of those who, despite maintaining their residence in places that preserve their traditional territorial structure, do not carry out activities in the primary sector. This way of occupying the territory bases its activity on the provision of services and is usually structured around roads.

  • Suburban: The suburban mode tends to appear in the districts of urban areas and is the one with the least links to the territory. The activity of its inhabitants is carried out far from their own homes and the adjacent territory with productive potential, encouraging travel in private vehicles.

  • Vacation: The vacation mode is that in which the property is inhabited in sporadic periods, normally coinciding with vacation periods, and remains unoccupied for the rest of the year. The productive relationship with the territory is almost always non-existent.

The relationship between the inhabitants and their territorial support has undergone the greatest transformations since the mid-20th century. Some of these changes have diluted and distorted the very clear structure that the villages and parishes traditionally presented, resulting in the disappearance of their self-sufficiency. Despite the changes in lifestyles, a whole series of community values have generally been maintained which are only understood from a social perspective. From Galicia’s past we can draw several lessons for the future. The rural development policies favoured by the administrations must be aware of the specific logic of each territory. The imposition of foreign formulas, if they do not take into account these specific logics, will produce conflicts that will contribute to greater abandonment and the consequent depopulation that rural areas are already suffering. It is precisely these logics that gave meaning to the territorial structure of Galicia and, consequently, those that should serve as keys to imagine strategies that design a productive future that guarantees, not only economic, but above all the socio-environmental sustainability.


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