Framework's Spanish Cluster hosts a fantastic project visit...
For over 2500 years, olive production has been a celebrated product of the beautiful landscapes of Aguilar de la Frontera in Andalusia, Spain. But over the last few decades intensive and unsustainable agricultural practices have taken a toll on these cherished olive groves. The region's agroecosystems are now facing environmental threats to their productivity and utility.
The removal of vegetative biodiversity from olive growing areas contributes to desertification. This in turn causes water run off that gauges dramatic gorges out of the landscape and destabilises groves through erosion. The resulting reduction in soil quality requires farmers to use more chemical inputs to maintain productivity or even to replace ancient groves completely. Beyond the groves, water management problems flow on contributing to urban flooding and placing significant strain on Spain's reservoirs and water systems.
Meanwhile, desertification in groves also contributes to habitat fragmentation and net biodiversity loss. Spain has some of the highest community hunting levels in Europe. It's a pastime of passion, with a significant national lobby. Hunters have been fighting reductions in game species for years. The degradation of olive grove ecosystems continues to harm the numbers of key species, including those of interest to our Spanish Farmer Cluster.
The good news? The Framework Project, an ambitious collaboration between 10 European countries, aims to change this narrative. By bringing together farmers, hunters, researchers, and political representatives, the project seeks to create a collective effort to restore and enhance biodiversity in farmland ecosystems.
Framework's Spanish Cluster have been trialling biodiversity-sensitive measures across large areas of the Aguilar de la Frontera region. They've grown out a community of farmers and hunters concerned with improving the region's environmental sustainability. Framework participants appreciate that completely removing vegetation within groves for short-term peace of mind comes at the cost of significant long term problems.
Recently project partner the Artemisan Foundation, who facilitate the Aguilar Farmer Cluster, hosted a knowledge exchange event. Framework Cluster facilitators, and other participants from across Europe and the UK, gathered in Andalusia during the first week of May 2023. Previous news items have covered the Spanish Cluster's successes engaging important stakeholders - but Framework participants from Work Package 1 and 2 were excited to see the progress for themselves!
What followed was several excellent days of presentations, workshops and site visits. The project also hosted a press conference and sessions with leaders from the Andalusian government, as well as key NGOs, to raise awareness and build momentum. Visitors included Ramón Fernández Pacheco, Andalusian Minister for Sustainability, Environment and the Blue Economy and José María Mancheño, President of Andalusia's Hunting Federation.
One of the main objectives was to showcase the implementation and management of vegetation covers, both natural and project-seeded, as viable solutions to combat erosion and promote biodiversity. Sessions were held on topics including building Farmer Clusters, ecosystem monitoring tools, delivering sustainable productivity, boosting agrobiodiversity, and responding to environmental threats.
The event took place during a significant winter-spring drought with attendees experiencing high summer temperatures. This reality ensured that the urgent need for agroecosystems to resist, and mitigate, the impacts of global heating remained at the forefront of discussion.
The visit showcased the dramatic difference between olive groves with ground cover vegetation and those without. Once-degraded olive groves now host thriving biodiversity, from the return of various plant species to the presence of butterflies, birds and game species - a testament to the resilience of nature when given a chance to recover.
The event's practical and theoretical parts, along with its social aspects, provided valuable insights for policymakers and stakeholders to tackle similar challenges in their respective regions. The visit also ignited hope among international participants, who were moved by the visible impact of the Framework Project. They discussed taking learnings back to areas the project is operating in where the harms of biodiversity-loss to agroecoystems are less obvious.
Despite facing a delicate climate and environmental situation, the efforts of the Framework Project in Spain demonstrate that change is possible. Farmers, hunters, and communities in Aguilar de la Frontera have come together to care for their environment, promoting biodiversity, soil health, and a more sustainable food system. The Framework Project's journey in Aguilar de la Frontera serves as a beacon of hope, demonstrating that with collective efforts and innovative practices, we can restore the richness of nature and foster a more harmonious coexistence between agricultural production and its environment.
Inter-generational conversations taking place in the Farmer Cluster, and between neighbouring farmers, are also encouraging - suggesting that cultural change can be achieved with respect and a ground-up approach. Visitors were heartened to hear how some farmers neighbouring Framework areas have begun to adjust their vegetation management practices after learning more.
Overall, the visit left a lasting impression on attendees, highlighting the need to raise awareness about the critical connection between agriculture, environment, and society. As Luis Fernando Villanueva, the CEO of Artemisan, spoke about during the event:
"Society needs to know that when it eats, uses oil, or drinks wine, behind it there are agrarian and rural communities managing these landscapes."