Saving Catalan traditional agriculture

The project ‘Cultures Trobades’ has already avoided the extinction of 300 varieties of seeds, 50 ancient vineyards and the last living specimens of the Catalan goats. The initiative aims to preserve traditional Catalan agriculture, "the country's cultural heritage."

CNA / Guillem Sánchez

August 24, 2011 01:46 PM

Prada (ACN).- The project ‘Cultures Trobades’, which originated in Lleida, is trying to prevent the loss of the last generation of farmers who cultivate fields in a traditional manner “before industrialisation despised their knowledge and put them in a corner of the process”, endangering “a tremendous agricultural culture” said the Head of the organisation, Gerard Batalla. Since man first domesticated nature he has become “a scholar of its environment, knowing about the seeds and the soil, and we can not lose this heritage.” ‘Cultures Trobades’ (literally meaning ‘Found Cultures’) recovered 150 varieties of fruit, 150 vegetables, 50 old vines, 25 varieties of olives and saved from extinction the last living specimens of Catalan goats, which many considered to already be extinct.

The agricultural knowledge that has been orally passed down through families is in danger of extinction in Catalonia. The same can be said for the seeds of native fruits and vegetables that Catalan farmers have been cultivating for centuries. The industrialisation of the countryside, which has been only designed to "increase productivity," has caused the loss of 75% of the native varieties. Gerard Batalla, the head of the ‘Cultures Trobades’ project has participated in a conference on agriculture held in the Catalan Summer University, in Northern Catalonia (Southern France).

To combat this “tremendous loss of heritage,” members of the Slow Food Association, “all coming from Lleida’s farms” are interviewing the last farmers who cultivate the fields using traditional methods to retrieve knowledge. Although they acknowledge that such agricultural techniques are no longer economically viable, they strongly believe in their cause, saying that it “says so much of our environment and our history”.

Farmers know which soil they are stepping on and how and when to conduct crop rotations in order to keep the land fertile. ‘Cultures Trobades’ has recovered more than 150 varieties of native fruit seeds, over 150 varieties of indigenous vegetable seeds, 50 old vines, 25 varieties of olives and the only surviving specimens of the Catalan goat, which was previously thought to be extinct.

The seeds that have been saved are kept “in banks or plots and cultivated by people close to the group”.  The task of natural conservation is supported both through private and public donations. But the ultimate goal is to collect the cultivation knowledge of farmers. "However, it is not clear to see farmers changing their way of working; they need to see the positive outcome very clearly" Batalla reasons.

The Catalan goat

To date the project has saved the last thirty specimens of the Catalan goat, which is distinctive for its white colour and big size. “We will try to breed them in order to raise its population to a few hundred over a few years and then reintroduce them,” said Batalla. The goat is typically valued for their meat but not for their milk as they are “not very giving.” However, “we suspect that the cheese can be made from the Catalan goat which would be valuable precisely because it gives very little milk” said Batalla optimistically.

The animals are “machines to cut bushes” and are perfectly adapted to life in the mid and high mountain areas. It is thought that there presence could control the woodland undergrowth if they were more abundant in the Pyrenees.

Eat healthier

Batalla emphasised that the industrialisation process has no interest “in ensuring quality products for society,” something which is considered more in traditional agriculture. Scientific studies now attribute modern diets “to the increase in cases of diabetes in children.” The true function of agriculture “is to foster public health”, according to Batalla.

The philosophy of ‘Cultures Trobades’ is to ensure “good food, clean and fair.” “Good to be healthy, clean to be without chemicals and fair to offer farmers a decent life.” Batalla said that the intention of the project is to encourage young farmers to return to using traditional techniques and local varieties because at the moment there is not the motivation from the market to do so.

Slow Food

Slow Food is an Italian environmental-gastronomic association, founded in 1989 in response to the culture of "fast food". Its aim is to preserve the cultural cuisine and the associated plants and seeds, domestic animals, and cultivation of each region. The movement has since expanded to more than one hundred countries.