The disordered order. On the impact of the state and the market in the Galician territory

A landscape is a historical construction derived from the interaction between physical, biotic, and anthropic elements; that is, between the natural and human forces that come into play in a given territory [1]. Therefore, we cannot think of landscapes as static realities, but as constantly changing.

Apart from aesthetic considerations, what interests us here is to approach the understanding of the landscape and the territory as products of a historical time. Their observation can offer us a reflection of who we are today: of our problems -abandonment of large areas, territorial imbalance, etc.; and of the challenges we must face – inevitably we must think about global warming. But in its analysis, if we know how to look through the eyes of history, we can also find a reflection of what we were. The traces of the past are very present in the territory we inhabit and its study, besides helping us to understand our present, can also give us some keys for the construction of the future. Within the framework of this research we are working on the productive capacities of the Barbanza bioregion under the logic of sustainability. The idea is very current, but the truth is that the farmers who inhabited this territory, with the means and technology available to them at each historical moment, proved to have mastered the issue of sustainability, for productive and reproductive reasons. Sustainability was the life and future of their people and they knew how to solve it at their own scale. That same scale, the local one, will also be the first scale of sustainability in the future.

The traces of the past are very present in the territory we inhabit and its study, besides helping us to understand our present, can also give us some keys for the construction of the future.

In an approach to the recent history of the Galician territory we can find two great models. Until the second half of the 20th century, the first one dominated, resulting in an integrated territory from a planning that we can call endogenous. Here, the villages are the basic management centres and the farmers, organised in these small communities, are the ultimate protagonists of a process that is not free of conflict and alternatives. But since the middle of the last century, in the authoritarian context of the dictatorship, there has been an accelerated rural exodus and a radical transformation of the countryside derived from the modernizing developmentalism of the green revolution. The door was opened to a productivist model imposed by the State and also linked to the corporate capitalism of the regime (ENCE, FENOSA…). In this new model the territory loses its character of integrated system, so that each action that is carried out on a certain space does not attend to the interrelations and interdependencies between the parts.

The configuration of an integrated territory

The first model, locally integrated and adapted to the physical-climatic diversities in the elongated space, was configured during the modern period and a good part of the contemporary period [2]. With cities that were unable to assert themselves as rulers of the territory – they did not even establish good communication networks between them – and with an administration that was unable to control the territory of the old Kingdom of Galicia, characterised by a particularly dispersed population, what we find is a country of farmers who, at the beginning of the 20th century, became masters of their own, and who, until very recently, played the main role in defining the landscapes and building up the territory. Even before having the effective ownership of the land, through their useful domain, the farming communities were the ones who controlled a territory that humanises every last rock, as can be deduced from the incomparable wealth of the microtoponymy.

Since the middle of the last century, in the authoritarian context of the dictatorship, there has been an accelerated rural exodus and a radical transformation of the countryside derived from the modernizing developmentalism of the green revolution. The door was opened to a productivist model imposed by the State and also linked to the corporate capitalism of the regime (ENCE, FENOSA…). In this new model the territory loses its character of integrated system.

To understand this reality from a productive point of view, the notion of agro-ecosystem is particularly useful, which refers to an integrated territory defined by the interdependencies between its different elements [3]. In the case of Galicia, the integrated agro-silvo-pastoral landscape as we know it is shaped by the productive intensification of the 18th and 19th centuries. The agras, spaces cultivated by the houses that make up the village, cannot be understood without the management of large areas of forest or even without the management of diverse livestock. All this is based on the knowledge accumulated by successive generations of farmers, but also on innovation; think, for example, of the progressive extension of American crops. Above all, none of this can be understood if we do not pay attention to the collective organization of space, which is full of conflicts.

In the 19th century, the liberal State brought with it the establishment of an administration that incorporated rational planning of the territory among its main objectives. Into the framework of this ambitious task are included the confiscations of the central decades of the 19th century and, towards the end of this century and the beginning of the 20th century, a growing interest in the (re)population of the forests, which forest engineers saw as unused, when in fact they were the support and driving force of a highly productive agricultural system that resulted in a large population growth [4]. In an unfavourable institutional context, the farming communities managed to reaffirm their governing role over the territory by showing a great capacity for resilience and adaptation. Among the different strategies used by the local people to stop the (re)forestation works [5] is the individualization of the communal forests, which at that time allowed them to preserve their use and, with it, the territorial balance. As this history is full of memory, we can explain it through the words of Aurita Cao and Carmen Creo, neighbours of Froxán (Vilacoba, Lousame).

(English subtitles available through the video settings)

Disordering the territory

Franco’s dictatorship, which was established in the long post-war period through the implementation of authoritarian policies, was responsible for tipping the balance in favour of the interests of an autarchic state. Around the 1950s, the State Forestry Heritage (Patrimonio Forestal del Estado – PFE) signed agreements for the planting of trees with the local councils of the Barbanza area, despite the fact that the lands affected were the property of the neighbouring communities, in a process common to the whole of Galicia. The mountains of San Xoán de Laíño are a good example of the coercive power of the New State, which allowed individual owners to maintain their forest holdings as long as they planted them with pine trees within a period of time defined by the PFE, as María Rendo and Benjamín Recarey explained to us.

(English subtitles available through the video settings)

With the grazing lands invaded by forced tree planting, the progressive loss of the importance of livestock was general in the villages of Barbanza. So was the creation of employment in forest plantations, which, as Benjamín Recarey explained, “broke the labour market”, but at the same time, broke the agro-ecological balance and the symbiotic relationship between the house and the common. From supporting the agrarian system and sustaining family economies in an integrated territory, the forest went on, at that time, to support and sustain companies that emerged or flourished under the protection of the reforestation process and continued until now.

From supporting the agrarian system and sustaining family economies in an integrated territory, the forest went on, at that time, to support and sustain companies that emerged or flourished under the protection of the reforestation process and continued until now.

This reality became clear in the documentary review we carried out in the Dodro Municipal Archive. During the years of the transition from the Franco Regime to democracy, we recorded the awarding of wood from the communal areas agreed with the administration (communal areas managed by the administration through collaboration agreements), after several fires, to companies such as Tableros de Fibras, S.A. (TAFISA, later bought by Sonae Industria Group and dismantled over the last few decades); Financiera Maderera, S.A. (FINSA, with an annual turnover of around €900 million) or Empresa Nacional de Celulosas, S.A. (ENCE, integrated in the IBEX-35 (35 leading companies at the Spanish stock market)  at the end of 2018) [6]. The increase in fires in recent decades was one of the main and most damaging consequences of this disorderly planning, which radically modified the endogenous dynamics of the territory, as Carmen Rodríguez Deán from Lavandeira (Baroña, Porto do Son) explained to us.

(English subtitles available through the video settings)

Another process of territorial planning promoted by the administration during the Franco regime, the land consolidation (small holding aggrupation), also had a great weight in the dismantling of the old territorial system and in a process of change that has destroyed more than it has transformed. Planned in the logic of modernizing developmentalism, these projects were originally very conflictive, both within the communities and between them and the agents of concentration. They were so then, when there were farmers, but they stopped being so with the passing of the decades, to the point that today it is the neighbors without agrarian dedication who request them. Although less to facilitate the agricultural uses than for other uses such as urbanization.

Nowadays Galicia is not a country of farmers, but of smallholders.

Nowadays Galicia is not a country of farmers, but of smallholders. According to the cadastral data, there are about 11 million rural plots registered by 1.7 million individuals. Beyond this, almost 700,000 hectares, 25% of the whole country, are managed by communal forest communities. These community members and small owners, more than 60% of the population, are precisely the heirs of the farmers who for centuries humanized the territory and transformed the landscape, with enough knowledge to avoid destroying it, building it as we still like to appreciate it. The process of dismantling the territory does not seem to stop, but it must be borne in mind that, so far, land ownership is in the hands of its inhabitants, and with it, the ability to reverse these dynamics.

This knowledge is an intangible heritage, with very tangible results, of which we are heirs, an enormous capital that is still within our reach, and that we can trace in the multiple layers of the spaces we inhabit.

As we already said, Galicia is no longer a country of farmers. With its disappearance as a social group is also leaving a vast knowledge of the territory built on hundreds of years of management and innovation. But this knowledge is an intangible heritage, with very tangible results, of which we are heirs, an enormous capital that is still within our reach, and that we can trace in the multiple layers of the spaces we inhabit. It is in our hands to recover it and update it so that we can once again articulate the territory with productive and social uses that allow us to build a sustainable future.

References

  1. To approach these questions from Ecology and History, see Garrabou, R. and Naredo, J.M. (eds.) (2018). El paisaje en perspectiva histórica. Formación y transformación del paisaje en el mundo mediterráneo. Zaragoza: Prensas Universitarias de Zaragoza e Institución Fernando el Católico.

  2. Pereira, G. and Portela, E. (eds.) (2015). El territorio en la historia de Galicia. Organización y control. Siglos I-XXI. Santiago de Compostela: Servizos de Publicacións e Intercambio Científico. In relation with this text, the last two articles are of special interest, written by Pegerto Saavedra and Lourenzo Fernández Prieto.

  3. See, for instance, Altieri, M. (1999). Agroecología. Bases científicas para una agricultura sustentable. Montevideo: Editorial Nordan-Comunidad.

  4. The notion of the forest as a support for the agricultural system, in relation to its essential role in fertilizing the land and feeding the livestock, was originally formulated by Bouhier, A. (1979). La Galice: essai geographique d’analyse et d’interpretation d’un vieux complexe agraire. Poitiers: Université de Poitiers; and later by other authors such as Balboa, X. (1990). O monte en Galicia. Vigo: Xerais; as well as reviewed by Soto Fernández, D. (2006). Historia dunha agricultura sustentábel: transformacións produtivas na agricultura galega contemporánea. Santiago de Compostela: Consellería de Medio Rural, that defends the characterization of the communal forest as the engine of the agrarian system, instead of support.

  5. The farming communities implemented a wide range of actions to prevent the forestation of their communal forests, which also varied according to the political situation. In the case of Barbanza, during the years of the Second Republic, the press reported on the problems generated by the project, which is evident, for example, in the fire of the forest house built by the Provincial Council (La Voz de Galicia, 28.06.1934) or in the frequent fires in newly reforested areas (El Compostelano, 26.09.1935).

  6. Municipal Archive of Dodro, box 322.

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