By Marlies Meijer (MSc-student)
As I wrote earlier, I am balancing between the multiple realities of Galicia. Now, several weeks later I’m still balancing. Off course everything is different than the assumptions and hypotheses I had in the Netherlands. The rural situation here is complex and has many faces. For the moment I am trying to untangle the different storylines I encounter here. Hopefully one or two are nice enough to work out and to connect to a more theoretical storyline. It is a delicate job, which can only be completed in Spanish (I never realised that almost closed scientific communities existed because of language barriers) and with as less generalisation as possible, as ‘everything is different is Galicia’. It also implies that I have to let go of my Dutch reality and leave behind the loose ends I developed back home.
Land abandonment – One of the storylines I encountered is land abandonment. Almost 25 % of the Galician countryside is abandoned, with far-reaching effects. In the Netherlands we would call an abandoned parcel new nature or verrommeld (messy). Here it implies higher chances for forest fires and agricultural devaluation. Rural Galicia exists of many small farms, with small parcels and above all many land owners. Most landowners simply own land, they do not live there, nor do they use the land for (agricultural) production. Because of low costs it is possible to own land, and leave it more or less abandoned. Most owners do not want to sell their land, they prefer to keep it as a capital resource for economically bad times, or in case its value increases because of urban expansion or afforestation. Some owners are simply not aware of the fact that they own land. Because of a malfunctioning administrative system and a lack of a clear spatial policy these situations can occur everywhere and to everyone, only no one knows exactly where.
On the other hand most farmers or peasants are not able to buy extra land. Their resources are limited. In the past decades the most substantial farmers already invested in milk quota, machinery and other devices in order to catch up with the rest of Europe.
The result is a situation where spatial and rural developments are fixated. Measures are developed to loosen the situation; for instance a land bank to facilitate renting land to other users, in order to mobilise the land market. But also these measures encounter problems.
On the one hand, Galicia struggles with policies from the past and large measures (top down) that are needed to change and improve the rural situation. Modernisation, like elsewhere in Europe, did not take place in Galicia. Notwithstanding the problems it brought to other countries, it is a phase needed in this country to improve the quality of life on the countryside. On the other hand, we do live in an era where bottom-up approaches and local participation are preferred, also in Galicia this is an hot item. How these two extremes are intertwined seems to me an interesting starting point for further research in Galicia.