Máis ca leña: how to rethink land management?

Sometimes an apparently small initiative, if we look at it in terms of surface area or number of people involved, but which has ambitious objectives and many hours of work and involvement behind it, can become a microcosm from which to rethink the country, people’s relationship with the territory and the meaning of living in community. This is the case of the Máis ca leña (More than firewood) project, based in the parish of Taragoña (Rianxo) on three essential pillars: the members of the Comunidad Vecinal de Montes en Mano Común (Community of communal land, CVMCM) O Fieitoso de Taragoña, the members of the neighbourhood association Fousas ao Monte and the students and teachers of the Brea Segade Primary School. Their initiative, designed with a triple dimension – productive, community and didactic – is an excellent example of the enormous potential that exists today in rural areas.

Aerial view of O Fieitoso de Taragoña communal land. In the foreground, the buildings of the Brea Segade Primary School, which precede the recreational area of Campo de Maneiro, where the Máis ca leña project is being developed.

From intensive forestry to multifunctionality

The starting point for redirecting the direction of forest management is no different from other experiences gathered by the Barbanza Ecosocial Lab. The fires, in this case the great wave of the summer of 2017 and those that particularly affected Rianxo in March 2019, act as an impetus for a group of neighbours to decide to get involved in the management of the communal land and in the social dynamisation of the village, establishing a symbiosis between community (O Fieitoso de Taragoña) and association (Fousas ao Monte) that enjoys great vitality. The context: on the one hand, a relatively small communal area (76 ha) with a short community trajectory (it was classified in 2006); on the other hand, an organised neighbourhood association, with working capacity and armed with illusion, willing to demonstrate that it is possible and also necessary to build sustainable territories from an ecological, economic and social point of view.

According to Miguel Rial, a member of Fousas ao Monte, the association shares a central objective with the forest community: they are working to move away from the predominant intensive forestry model towards a multifunctional management that is kinder to the territory and to life in common. These are also the keys to the Plataforma en Defensa do Monte, a network in which these two entities and seven other CMVMCs participate, and which manages around 1500 hectares in the municipality of Rianxo. However, the depth of the proposal promoted by Taragoña goes beyond a mere change of production model.

Máis ca leña is an initiative that integrates the communal land community, the neighbourhood association and the parish’s educational centre, combining the productive, community dynamisation and educational dimensions. It is this confluence that gives meaning to the name of the project. Not only does it mean bringing livestock, incorporating beekeeping or introducing the use of chestnuts, resin and mushrooms, but it also seeks to recover the connection between the community and the land. Emilio Saborido, president of the CMVMC O Fieitoso de Taragoña, indicates that they work so that the neighbours “have a voice and a vote” with regards to the land and enjoy it, so that they can constitute “a collective that respects, values and defends” their territory. And here the participation of Brea Segade becomes essential. On the one hand, Máis ca leña allows the educational curriculum of the centre to be complemented with the direct experience of participating in the management of this space. But in addition, the students are responsible for sharing this knowledge with the people and groups that come to Taragoña to discover the alternatives that the forest can offer. The signposting of demonstration areas, the creation of enclosures and other conditioning tasks are examples of actions related to the economic support of the Laboratory, which Rial considers “key to consolidate the project”.

A territory to be experienced

The promoters of Máis ca leña are very aware of the triple dimension that shapes a proposal that also incorporates an aesthetic perspective and enjoyment of the territory. For Saborido, “one of the riches of the forest is that as it ages it becomes much more beautiful”. Managed, complex and diverse land is particularly appreciated by the population. This is what Natalia and Ana, two neighbours who have not yet taken the step of becoming community members, tell us, but who take advantage of the area every day to walk their dogs and exercise. O Fieitoso today, in the process of productive transformation, reminds them more of the spaces of their childhood than the forested, abandoned and scrubby woodland of recent times, much less pleasant to walk and live in.

The planting of chestnut trees or the planning of the forest to promote the exploitation of mushrooms are not, given its size, commercially oriented. However, these proposals encourage local people to freely take advantage of the different resources offered by the forest, gathering chestnuts, mushrooms or pine cones, which at the same time promotes community identity.

The introduction of goats, on the other hand, has a dual productive function: cleaning the forest and selling the meat. Beyond the environmental and social benefits, Saborido believes that for this approach to be sustainable from an economic point of view, “it would be ideal to be able to hire a person”. But the productive approach does not imply leaving aside the educational one, reserving a main role in the care of the school’s pupils. These and other experiences led by the pupils, such as the planting of chestnut trees in the communal land, help the youngsters to build their relationship with the space as what it is: something of their own. In this sense, the community’s new commitment does not imply a return to the past in terms of specific uses of the forest; what it does aim to rescue are the logics that lead the neighbours to experience the space as their own.

Building a network, building community

Unlike other experiences that are bigger in terms of surface area, collective experience and capacity to generate resources, as in the case of the Baroña communal land, the productive activities of the O Fieitoso community have a more demonstrative than purely economic sense, contributing to the conceptualisation of the communal land as a diverse and complex space. This work also has another virtue: it allows this experience to become a mirror in which other communities and individuals can look at themselves. The promoters of Máis ca leña are developing an intense work of dissemination through social networks that adds to the network participation with other communities in the municipality or the region, as well as the organisation of visits to the forest by groups or individuals in which the students of Brea Segade act as guides.

Both the community and the association agree that social dynamisation is their main challenge for the future. Currently, the total participation in the Fousas ao Monte collective is around 25 people. “We have a very consolidated group, but we need to expand it in order to have continuity,” says Rial. “We need to bring in more young people and also older people with experience and other ideas. The number of members of O Fieitoso, on the other hand, is somewhat smaller. According to its president, many people still don’t fully understand what communal land means and what it implies. They often “ask how much you have to pay” to participate or continue to see it as “something private or closed, where is difficult to enter”. Natalia and Ana confirm this perception: they see the forest as something belonging to the local community, but they do not see themselves as community members.

One of the main objectives for O Fieitoso in this new phase is to increase the number of community members and particularly the women community members, but for this to happen “we need knowledge of the community itself, to give it a little push”, says the president of O Fieitoso. The main challenge is to explain and disseminate what the community is and what it means to be a community member, which is why the Máis ca leña project and its educational aspect are so valuable. “I think the project can be ideal because we have a sample of what can be done. People can visualise it and give their opinion on the destiny of things”, says Saborido, who adds that “more than a company that manages land, we have to show the communal land communities as associations in which the neighbours can participate by making decisions about their future”.

(English subtitles available through the video settings)