Stopping the car to retrieve the tapa plana (cloth cap) of an elderly man battling his way through Orgiva town with his burro (ass) in the recent high winds got me thinking about the potential effect of the privatisation of common lands.
The burro was carrying a heavy load of grasses, no doubt food for its owner’s goats, painfully cut from the harsh ground. Several herds of goats and sheep are moved around the various areas of open land here. Goatherds may own a barn to shelter their animals at night, but few own land. They are, literally, farming without land.
In the UK, progressive enclosure of common land since the 12th century, but particularly during the 17th century onwards as a result of the enclosure Acts, deprived the majority of people of access to agricultural land while enriching a few and establishing the model of private property over collective rights.
Capitalism grew from the creation of an industrialised working class, forced from the land to the factories.
A neighbour told us how they had argued with a local goat farmer over the grazing of his herd on land the British man had bought and was cultivating olive and orange trees on. The farmer claimed a right to graze his capra on it. The inevitable outcome of the row was the enclosure of the disputed ground. The goatherd was forced to move his animals elsewhere, but (and I do not blame the owner of the land for building his fences – we all shut our gates when we hear the goat bells), it was a further, possibly inevitable step, towards the loss of common land.
If such lands continue to provide a peasant farming community with a means of survival in 21st century rural Spain, an alternative to the market, then perhaps the sustainability of economies such as these will continue.
And the tourists and long-stayers who come here to escape overcrowded cities, creeping urban sprawl and ordered hedgerows will continue to be charmed. This might sound patronising, but their importance for local business is immeasurable.
The American poet Robert Frost said: “Don’t ever take a fence down until you know why it was put up.” Perhaps not putting one up until the consequences are known might be more apt.