Guernica, one of Pablo Picasso’s best-known works, is famous for its depiction of the horror of war, specifically the Spanish Civil War. Picasso created this cubist oil painting after the 1937 bombing of Guernica, which resulted in numerous civilian casualties. The town became a target of the war due partly to its significance to the Basques; despite the Basque Country being included in Spanish territory, the Basque people take pride in their language and culture. They refuse to assimilate at the expense of their distinguished identity.
The Basque Country or Basque Autonomous Community is located in northern Spain, bordering southern France. Almost a hundred years of wars saw Basque undergo losses and defeats, and a trade deficit caused by its over-reliance on few industries almost brought it to collapse. Today, Basque knows that violence is not the answer.
Protect identity, preserve tradition
Foods and food practices are a fundamental expression of ethnic identity and culture. However, this aspect of Basque identity is at risk; the number of farmers in Basque Country declined by 33% in 2009. Victory means nothing if it comes at the cost of once-diverse resources. To preserve the wealth of their food sovereignty, small-scale Basque agriculturists united and joined forces with other social actors. They worked to highlight the cultural dimension of their diverse food resources. Their work revived the Basque region and culminated in several Michelin star restaurants.
Innovation is newness, not just technology.
Policymakers’ goal in working with the people is not to change their minds but to understand and reach out to them. Whether they engage in face-to-face conversations or observe through social listening tools, policymakers must find connections between what is and is not said.
The Basque Country sought to create unity at a foundational level. What better custom to provoke that sense en masse than food? This aims beyond the cultural significance; food sovereignty prioritizes grassroots economy, promoting social equity.
A new battle, fought with veggies, meat, eggs, and pasta
Initially, only 10% of farmers are under the age of 40, which is not enough for the ecosystem of sustainable change. In response, an agricultural union EHNE-Bizkaia organized training courses for a new generation of farmers. The courses provide materials that cover investment, technology, and employment boost in a local area. To some young Basques, securing a living without urbanization is not their only end goal. They seek a future of independence and autonomy in the Basque Country. Farmers used to sell vegetables and farm products at market prices, while middlemen kept the prices low. Today, over 80 farms deliver their agricultural products to over 700 Basque households. Producers get to sell their products at a fair price, and consumers get a sense of pride for consuming healthy and high-quality Basque products.
Changes are tested continually as a process in learning and coming to solutions and best practices, which other places can then adopt as an example.
We now look back at Thailand, a country with four neighboring countries, full of cultural diversity and rich in resources. Many perceive ‘soft power’ to incur a global phenomenon and viral interest. Yet we forget that an ‘organic’ change begins small and takes time to bloom. When both the state agencies and private sectors coincide that Thailand’s resources are treasure, and work to prioritize them, we shall see the authentic food diversity across the country.