Name of organisation
Bizkaigane Elkartea (Bizkaigane Cooperative)
Errigoiti, Biscay – Basque Country/Local
Type of organisation
Short food supply chains; youth; generational renewal, training; dairy farming; food sovereignty
Who is Bizkaigane Cooperative?
Bizkaigane Cooperative looks to promote food sovereignty by offering citizens dairy products produced in a sustainable, local and ecological way. In 1983, faced with a lack of opportunities for new generations in the agricultural sector, three young people had the idea of setting up an association in the dairy sector , working as a group to organize direct sales.
They started selling milk, and when demand began to fall, they began to produce products from cow’s milk (fresh cheese, cured cheese, etc.). In 2004, they secured more land and diversified by adding sheep to the farm. At the same time, they began to work in the vegetable garden. They switched to organic production around 2005 and have developed a customer base of local consumers, including both private individuals and establishments in the surrounding area.
The cooperative works with indigenous breeds of sheep and tries to find a sustainable balance between the number of animals and number of hectares of land. Members of the cooperative use reusable and compostable packaging and travel a maximum of 15km to deliver their products . Their approach to farming is built on organic methods and relies on homeopathic and phytotherapeutic treatments.
Who do Bizkaigane Cooperative work with and how do they do it?
The cooperative grew from an initial three members to five, which allowed for a better quality of life and work-life balance. More recently, with two of the founders approaching retirement age, more young people have joined the cooperative to form a group of 9, creating a transition period for the next generational renewal. This has been one of the many reasons that Bizkaigane became a cooperative instead of an association at the end of 2019. The cooperative is now run by 5 men and 4 women members. Each member lives at home and comes to the farm to work every day. They also employ some contract workers.
Each day there is an organisational meeting on a different topic on the farm. These range from organising the logistics of the week, to finance matters, deliveries, production, and internal issues and evaluation. Members of the cooperative have also hired an administrator to do the accounting and financial management tasks in order to free the rest of the staff from these tasks.
What are Bizkaigane Cooperative main challenges?
A first challenge is that a lot of the people in the project are in fairly precarious situations, which makes it is very difficult not to think about money and to create the conditions to set objectives strategically. Increasing participation, training, and exchanges is key but this is made harder by financial precarity and a lack of security.
A second challenge has been adjusting to fluctuating demand and sales channels during the Covid pandemic. Covid-19 has posed very difficult challenges. In the beginning, there was an overload of orders from individuals and consumer groups, which meant an increase in work and the inability to respond to all these orders. After a few months, as it was impossible to access some markets because of the Basque Government’s decree, sales became difficult and the cooperative had to adjust production and generate new sales circuits.
A third challenge is a lack of understanding of the realities of farmers by the broader public. Members of the cooperative y are involved in projects and initiatives that aim to support its approach to agriculture, but this requires them to give up time and adapt to other rhythms and priorities, often for no renumeration. Researchers, the public and policy makers often cannot understand the precarity of the profession and the difficulties we face to simply survive, as a result of the low prices farmers receive for their products. If we really want to promote peasant farming, then initiatives have to fit around and be adapted to the realities of peasant farmers, not the opposite.
What are the priorities for the Bizkaigane Cooperative?
Bizkaigane Cooperative sees the need to improve and increase technical and production-related capacities. This includes the use of pastures, farming of rustic breeds, preventive treatments, phytotherapies etc.
They are also aware and affected by the wage gap between farmers, peasants, and people working in different government agricultural departments or researchers. On average, farmers earn 50% less than the rest of the EU population and ensuring the true value of farmers’work is recognised with fair prices is essential.
The cooperative started to address gender equality when the first woman came into the picture and the topic became much more concrete and alive when she became a mother. Thanks to the debates during that period and to having a clear gender and feminist perspective, we managed to reduce the working day to make it much more compatible with childcare. Making farming inclusive and fostering gender equality is key.