Walloons - Economy



Subsistence and Commercial Activities . Sugar beets are a common cash crop in the countryside. What is not turned into sugar is used as animal fodder. Wheat and potatoes are other common crops. Belgium's holdings in central Africa led to the importation of cocoa, which was developed into the world-renowned Belgian chocolate. In 1982, Belgians consumed over 7 kilos of chocolate per capita. Many artisanal chocolate operations exist throughout Wallonia. Local breweries also used to be a common sight. Nowadays there is still an extremely wide choice of beers, but production is not so localized. Walloons drink a lot of Flemish beer, too, but they always know which ones are made in Wallonia. Straight gin, called pèkèt , is also a popular alcoholic drink. The milk has an especially high fat content, which translates into extremely rich butter, cream, and cheese. A simple local cheese, makèye, is eaten most often on slices of bread as tartines, a common breakfast and supper. The heavy meal of the day is eaten at noon, often including a pork dish, potatoes, and salad with mayonnaise. Soups are a common first course at the midday meal and supper. A four o'clock goûter often consists of a piece of pie and coffee.

Belgium has one of the highest daily per capita caloric consumption rates in the world. Coffee is widely drunk. Some families keep a thermos filled all day long. Pork is the cheapest and most widely consumed meat, and hams from the Ardennes are a delicacy known throughout Europe. Mussels imported from Flanders and Holland are a favorite dish along with french-fried potatoes. Fried potatoes can be bought at almost any time of the day on most every street corner, with a variety of sauces available. Several types of waffles can also be readily purchased, often hot out of the oven.

Industrial Arts. Owing to the presence of coal and good river transportation, Wallonia has been an important center of iron and steel production since the Middle Ages. By the beginning of the eighteenth century, coal-burning machines used for the pumping and draining of mines were installed in Liège, greatly increasing production. Wallonia was the first region on the European continent to undergo the Industrial Revolution. Many of the early industrialists came from England. Verviers became an important textile center while the coal mines around Liège, Charleroi, and the Borinage gave birth to the steel industry. As early as the fifteenth century, Wallonia was supplying firearms to the king of Spain. Nowadays the arms industry is centered in the National Arms Factory in Herstal. The crystal factory, Val St. Lambert, had a world reputation at one time, but it is now closed. In the past, women made lace in the home, but very few continue to do so.

Trade. Wallonia has long carried on trade with neighboring European countries. The excellent canal, river, and railway systems of Belgium facilitated the transport of both imports and exports. However, the Walloon coal mines are now shut down and the steel industry is in a critical decline. The food industry has begun exporting more, but on the whole, trade has decreased dramatically in the last twenty years. In 1980 the unemployment rate in Wallonia was 14.5 percent.

Division of Labor. Walloon women have been working outside the home since the Industrial Revolution, though they still earn less than men since they are concentrated in low-paying industries such as textiles and clothing and are not proportionately represented in upper management. Factories began running day-care centers for the children of their female employees in the nineteenth century. Today the state operates numerous day-care centers around the country. Women are still primarily responsible for keeping the home.

Land Tenure. As in England, the introduction of the capitalist order during the eighteenth century, in combination with several disastrous agricultural years, led to the impoverishment of the countryside and the beginning of the exodus into the cities to compete for factory jobs. Today only about 4 percent of the population makes its living from agriculture.


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