Basques - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Only about 20 percent of the population is engaged in agriculture. In Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa more than 50 percent of the active labor force is employed in industry. Until recently the Basque baserria was a mixed-farming enterprise in which the emphasis was upon self-sufficiency. The farm family grew its own wheat, corn, vegetables, fruits, and nuts and raised poultry, rabbits, pigs, cows, and sheep. Land held in common by the village was an important source of animal pasturage, ferns for animal bedding, limestone for fertilizer, and wood for fuel and building materials. Over the past fifty years there has been increasing commercialization of agriculture. Cropland has been converted either to intensive vegetable growing or fodder Production for dairy farming, both to supply urban markets. Agriculture is mechanized, though on a small scale because of the steep terrain. In the central ecological zone there is little permanent settlement. In the summer months shepherds ascend with their flocks and loggers cut hardwood species (oak and beech). In the southern ecological zone agriculture is of the large-estate variety with widely dispersed "agrotowns" surrounded by large holdings. The main crops are the Mediterranean trilogy of wheat, olives, and grapes. Near the Ebro River there is extensive irrigation that permits vegetable growing on a large commercial scale. Basque coastal fishing villages today send their fleets into the Cantabrian and Irish seas for hake, anchovies, and sea bream, and as far as the coasts of western Africa in search of tuna. Some of the vessels are state-of-theart with mechanical nets, refrigeration, and sonic depth finders and helicopters for finding their quarry.

Industrial Arts. The Basque country is one of Iberia's most industrialized regions. The city of Bilbo (Bilbao) houses many heavy industries, including steel plants and shipbuilding facilities. It is also one of western Europe's major ports for off-loading petroleum from supertankers. Smaller industrial towns specialize in modern consumer goods ranging from plastics to sewing machines. There is also an arms industry. Industrial pollution is a major problem in the Basque Country, causing poor air quality in the cities, which is exacerbated by traffic congestion. Most of the rivers are notably polluted.

Trade. While some farmers and fishermen market their products directly in nearby towns and cities, the Basque country now has an efficient network of commercial outlets including supermarkets and department stores.

Division of Labor. There is considerable equality between the sexes. In agriculture women frequently work alongside men at the same tasks. In urban areas women are increasingly employed in industry and services. Domestic chores remain, however, largely the purview of women.

Land Tenure. To be the owner of a farm was socially prestigious and represented economic security in a society in which arable land was at a premium. However, developments over the past fifty years have produced both a glut and a scarcity of land. On the one hand, the inability of peasant agriculture to generate sufficient income to support a twentieth-century life-style has prompted many families simply to abandon agriculture, departing for a city and either letting their baserria fall into disuse or planting it with pines for eventual sale to the paper-pulp industry. On the other hand, many urbanites are now buying or renting baserriak and converting them into chalets—weekend refuges from urban ills.


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