Economy | The Aldudes, the Basque valley that boasts a taste for work
15/10/2018 | This valley in the Basque Country, above Saint-Étienne-de-Baïgorry, has opened its doors. From Kintoa pork to its trout raised in nine fish farms, it has proven that it is also the Valley of Excellence.
The Aldudes Xabi Harispe
The Aldudes valley (Le chemin des hauteurs) located above Saint Etienne-de-Baigorry, bordering the Pays de Quint (Kintoa), stretches along the Nive river – and its trout – to Urepel, the last village in the valley. In this “principality”, work is king because the beauty of this wild landscape is paid for with hard work and the unemployment rate is barely 3%! Thanks to daring entrepreneurs like Pierre Oteiza, who alone employs 42 people in his company, but also the Harispe family who opened one of their fish farms the day before these Open House.
For fourteen years, and every two years, the Valley of the Aldudes (“The Way of the Heights”), an enclave of the deep and authentic Basque Country, and its three villages, Les Aldudes, Urepel and Banca, on the borders of the country of Quint, has been opening its doors – and its arms – to those who have no knowledge of this true little “principality” of Excellence. An area of pasture and woodland that extends over two to six kilometres and covers an area of 2,500 hectares. Typical, unique, beautiful and rough. The unemployment rate peaks – only – at 3% of its working population. But this mountainous country is suffering from the loss of wide open spaces and the erosion of its population. While it lacks arms and companies – transmitted or created – that respect the land that supports them, succeed in doing so. This is why the Adudeko Ibarra Beti Aintzina (AIBA) association has chosen the theme of work for this 2018 edition. What politician would reject such an approach?
AIBA is a real economic lever for the valley, and does not need any specialised agencies to see that it needs farmers, craftsmen, businesses in the restaurant or hotel sector, and initiative. Paradoxically, however, this small piece of land offers reference products behind the banner of Pierre Oteiza – whose wife Catherine is vice-president of the association (our photo) – who resurrected the Kintoa pig (from the name Quint) and who employs 50 people. Or the Harispe family, which for three generations has given its credentials to trout farming and the nine fish farms in the valley that are dedicated to it, or the sheep’s cheese of the Aldudes.
The Harispe family, the French reference in organic fish farming
In general, the day before, the association kicks off these days with a small event. This Friday, in the Aldudes, it was a question of inaugurating (our photo) the work carried out on one of the two fish farms run by the brothers Bertrand – who are also mayor of the village – and Xabi Harispe, native of the valley. Created in 1964 by Gracien, their grandfather, then managed by their father Michel and their uncle, the two brothers bought it in 2009. “It is a fish farm that we converted to organic in 2010 and it is now the only one in the department that is run with organic farming certification,” explains Xabi. Major work and investments have been carried out since the beginning of 2018. By increasing the height of the tanks we have increased the volume of breeding. As we have optimized all the oxygenation means in order to reduce the energy footprint of the fish farm”.
Efforts and improvements that have resulted in several certifications: “Agri Confiance”, but also the only environmental certification that exists in France “Aquarea” (environmentally friendly aquaculture in Aquitaine), set up with the Region and the Aquitaine Aquaculture Health Defense Group, an organization that Xabi Harispe chaired between 2012 and 2016. “We signed this charter with the Aquitaine Region and the State in 2013. Today, 98% of fish farms in Aquitaine and 100% of Basque fish farms are members of this environmental charter. ”
Since 2010, Xabi Harispe has been President of GDS Nive-Nivelle, which brings together thirteen fish farms and is in charge of the health and environmental governance of the crops and waterways on which he is located. In the Aldudes Valley alone, there are nine fish farms in the Aldudes Valley watershed alone, including Baigorry, and four others in the neighbouring watersheds, bringing their number to thirty in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department.
“In terms of fish farming in the Aldudes, we are members of the Aqualande cooperative which is located in Roquefort in the Landes. It is the leading French, Spanish and European group. For example, our leading product is smoked trout under the Ovive brand and the Aldudes fish farm produces exclusively very large trout, between 2 and 2.5 kg and intended for the French market, which has grown very strongly in recent years. Consumers may not be aware of it, but trout is a 100% French product since we control the entire chain from reproduction to marketing.”
In the Aldudes, we always play collectively and in solidarity
So much work, respect for nature and contribution to the preservation of the valley that led an important areopagus of elected officials and personalities from the region to accompany Xabi and Bertrand to the inauguration of their fish farm: Alain Rousset, President of the Region; Jean-Jacques Lasserre, President of the Departmental Council; Regional Councillor Andde Sainte-Marie, Annick Trounday, Departmental Councillor; Senators (trice) Brisson and Frédérique Espagnac, Prefect Payet and Deputy Prefect Johnatan, but also the Mayor of Jurançon Michel Bernos and the Presidents of the Chamber of Trades and the Chamber of Agriculture, Gérard Gomez and Guy Estrade and many mayors from the Basque Country.
The Aubard family,
“I based my speech on the shared common values between the management of fish farming and the commitments we have collectively,” concludes Xabi Harispe: “the spirit of enterprise and collective commitment under all aspects of solidarity, the willingness to work together, the willingness to work together, the willingness to progress together, to share common ambitions, i. e. to attract new inhabitants and entrepreneurs to the valley, new places of reception and accommodation and to rethink the conditions and tools of mobility. It takes a lot of work, consistency, confidence in the future and people, especially also a great capacity for adaptation and questioning…. a great capacity for adaptation and questioning. I also wanted to pay tribute to our Europe, which accompanies us in our projects and whose contributions we must know how to express and remember its same founding values.”
As in this rugby of the countryside that is sometimes called endangered, but where we know how to play collectively, in solidarity, this small valley of the Aldudes, for fourteen years, patiently would it not sign its resurrection?