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Primary sector and Climate Change

Interview with Aitor Zapirain Larreta, 24 years old, graduated in teaching, but works in the primary sector with dairy cows in his care.

Links with the primary sector

Since he was a child he has lived, seen and learnt life in the countryside. At his father’s side, he has always enjoyed every work and, therefore, he has always had that illusion. The daily work, the calm that the animals give him, the tranquility, the concern for the environment but, at the same time, the benefit you make. Everything attracts him. And, finally, the recognition given by customers of milk machines that have been installed for 12 years for the excellent milk, which encourages him to keep going.
Lessons inherited over the century: pasture parceling, regenerative livestock farming and healthy eating

The truth is that, in view of this rapid-change society, it seems that the chain is breaking. Aitor believes that he has been a spectator of a huge change since his birth. Looking back, he says that the situation has changed exponentially since 30 years ago. The entry to Europe, due to the need to be competent, forced the farmers to tighten up, technify and professionalize enormously, forcing them to intensify, to diversify the farmhouse, and to increase control over cows, hygiene, production… Consequently, they pushed the farmhouse from being a way of life to being a business.

Fortunately, the orography of the Basque Country means that excessive intensification is not possible, and those who live on the farm have maintained the family model, as it is not economically possible to continue with the business model. As far as possible, they try to make the most of the meadows in the area with a healthy and balanced mix of grasses and the most suitable grazing systems, in order to obtain the product at the lowest cost possible, while also making the most of their time and living conditions. In short, each farm has the capacity to seek a balance according to its structure, conditions and possibilities in order to move forward.

Primary sector and climate change

Aitor believes it is clear that the more space the city takes away from the rural environment, the greater the effect on climate change will be. In a limit situation, if the entire land area was rural, there would be no human-induced climate change, and vice versa -  if it were all urban, the world would disappear.

He thinks that those who live in the primary sector, as they live to produce food for the population, do what the population demands, both in quality and quantity. They give life to the land, they help the wheel of the ecosystem to keep going. He says they are the first link in the chain and, therefore, the most important. Without the primary sector, he believes this human-based system is not viable.

From a technical point of view, the primary sector and, in his case, those who work with cows in the Basque Country, by working according to the available soil, do not generate additional production, and use the excrement of their animals (the most balanced natural fertilizer) to fertilize the land, avoiding chemical fertilizers as much as possible and contributing to the circular economy. There is no better measure against climate change.

Generational change

According to Aitor, the situation is not good and the future looks bleak. The people who work in the sector put in a lot of hours, with often financial losses. Faced with this situation, the sons and daughters of the current farmers, in view of the situation of their fathers and mothers, do not find reasons to stay, so there is a lack of young people to continue with this activity. To cite a figure, 50 years ago in Gipuzkoa 4,000 farmers were engaged in milk production, and today the number of farmers working with dairy cows is less than 160. Given the situation, in 10-15 years’ time it is expected that the number will be less than 50. The situation is serious, the rural environment is being abandoned, economically it is not profitable and socially there are more and more obstacles. The young people’s decision not to take over is therefore perfectly understandable, but it is frightening to look into the future and see that, at this rate, the work and effort of so many generations will come to an end. 

Social involvement

We must be aware that, if we want to contribute to the local socioeconomic situation, there is nothing like eating local food. This will also help producers to produce the best possible products, to keep the environment in balance, and to reduce dependence on external agents. Already being positive actors in the fight against climate change, and even more so with these latest measures, they would considerably reduce the carbon footprint for obtaining the raw materials needed for animal feed and product processing.