In Andalusia, one of the 17 autonomous regions in Spain, agriculture and food production drive the economy. According to 2016 report, 24.3 percent of the region’s population lives in rural areas. Desertification, the process by which once-fertile land becomes lifeless, is eating away at vital landscapes. The dehesa, a traditional Spanish amalgamation of agriculture, natural grasslands and shrubbery, is falling out of favor.
Cultivation of singular crops has been going on for decades. This monoculture leads to vast segments of exposed land actively depleting, risking fire and limiting natural resources. As viable lands shrink, urban drift intensifies. Smallhold farmers without knowledge or resources to promote sustainable agriculture in Andalusia move away in hopes of finding work in the city. For the many who met with failure, it is time for them to come home.
How to Make Smallholder Farming Profitable
Expanding sustainable agriculture in Andalusia will allow smallholder farmers struggling to grow their products in profitable ways an incentive to return to their holdings. Affordable, accessible ways to repair dead soil and improve access to water are increasingly available. Healthy soil acts as a sponge; to rebuild the soil is key to water stewardship.
Between the coasts and the olive groves, Andalusians traverse stretches of terrain on horseback. The land is harsh and unforgiving at times. Andalusian culture speaks to its past life as a Moorish outpost, as well as its Spanish ties. Olive trees and the famed jamón ibérico paint the landscape and provide important sources of revenue.
Today, sustainable agriculture in Andalusia is positioned not only to reclaim land lost to desertification, but also to create a vibrant agricultural economy that fights climate change and improves quality of life. Though the Spanish economy overall ranks at fourteenth in the world, this statistic masks the macroeconomic disparity of wealth among the autonomous regions.
Recent data reports that over 40 percent of the population in Andalusia lives in poverty. Abandoned holdings plus the failure of urban drift to create lasting jobs contribute to the spike in unemployment. However, the root and the solution to this problem can be found in the same place: the land.
Desertification is a natural disaster occurring on a global scale. When the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification launched in 1994, the combined effort of member states to protect the welfare of populations living in drylands established this threat as a priority.
The resonating message from the last meeting is one of urgency. As desertification mushrooms across land, left in the wake of destruction are not only the environment, but also the livelihoods of the people who are sustained by it.
Rebuilding the Andalusian Farming Culture
Danyadara, a grassroots organization nestled in the foothills of the Sierra de Grazalema, is drawing from the region’s long history of human interaction with and reliance upon the land in order to provide a working example of sustainable agriculture. Cost-effective ways to improve soil and manage water are showcased on their property, where a formerly barren field grows into a thriving food forest.
For the many Andalusians that only know poverty, the current situation only reaffirms their way of life. But this passive acceptance may fade as sustainable agricultural investment blossoms.
Danyadara recognizes that Andalusia is positioned to be a leader in small-scale sustainable agriculture. Efforts of the small staff and volunteers are directed at not only regenerating their own land, but also sharing knowledge and resources with the community. Their methods are three pronged: bring back the soil, improve water stewardship and increase carbon sequestration. Detailed information on their projects can be found in both Spanish and English on their website.
Sustainable agriculture in Andalusia, or climate farming as it is sometimes called, is a vehicle for job creation and investment. The historic dehesa-style of farming is a natural stepping-stone toward climate farming and sustainable agriculture. It encourages biodiversity, the replanting of grasslands and enables a no-till farming structure that is important in the fight against climate change.
“For us, the biggest game changer will be when we can share no-till seeding technology with our neighbors,” said Jacob Evans, Farm Manager at Danyadara. “Our host site, Suryalila Retreat Centre, enables a hyper-focus on soil health since the land is a gift. Once we show people that it is possible to seed without tilling, keeping the soil intact, the lessons and gifts from the older generation will come full-circle.”
– Andrea Blumenstein
Photo: Wikimedia Commons