Movimento Alentejo Vivo – Exposing The Dark Side Of Intensive Agriculture

The Movimento Alentejo Vivo is a citizen movement that is exposing the dark side of agriculture intensification in Alentejo. It is time to stop the unawareness and blind eye of the authorities, and act. WE CALL FOR A GATHERING.

The promise of the biggest artificial lake of Europe – The Alqueva

The Alentejo region has long been struggling with problems associated with the maintenance of traditional rain fed agriculture which is very dependent on the climate. The irregularity of the Mediterranean climate is the reason that it has been considered strategic to expand water reserves and areas for irrigated crops.

In this line, the Alqueva Multipurpose Enterprise (EFMA) emerged as a new hope for plentiful water and as a solution to many of the region’s problems, from population loss and aging to unemployment and weak local economies. EFMA was approved and implemented in the mid-1990s. It is the most costly public-funded project of the Portuguese democracy.

Following the closure of the dam’s floodgates in 2002 and the successive infrastructures of the various irrigation blocks that make up the system first stage of the EFMA, we are now witnessing the change in the region’s traditional landscape with the introduction of new crops and irrigation techniques.

EFMA is now starting its second phase, building new irrigation blocks (50000 hectares), and most of the proposed area is being rapidly converted to a monoculture of irrigated olives or almonds, even though the projects for most of the said blocks haven’t gone through all the steps of the approval process.

The Crushing Reality Of Alqueva

We do not deny that the installation of the Alqueva system has led to increased direct economic profitability of farms. But the implementation of intensive crops at this scale brought the expected negative outcomes. The farms were implemented without taking into account a whole range of aspects related to their impact on the territory, people and the environment. The ability to monitor and supervise such projects is clearly lacking.

The impacts are not limited to EFMA’s irrigation blocks. They are also to confining perimeters and other farms where such crops and practices are becoming pervasive and uncontrolled.

Agrochemicals Putting Residents On Direct Risk

Many complaints have been submitted to the public authorities, especially because intensive agriculture projects are being installed right next to urban areas, a few meters from homes, schools and public spaces, risking the exposure of the population to agrochemicals.

In one case an intensive olive orchard project was to be installed less than 15 meters from a house near a small village. A resident, Catarina, complained to the municipality. She was told that the project was against public regulation and all works had to stop until proper evaluation of the impacts (on health and landscape) was made. The public health authority also gave a negative notification towards the existence of chemical agriculture so near to populated areas.

Four months later the installation proceeded without formal notice. Catarina went back to the municipality and was informed that, despite the legitimacy of her concerns and the nonconformity to public regulations, there was nothing the public authorities could do to stop the installation of intensive olive trees next to her home. They would consult with the agricultural ministry and the public health authority to decide what to do.

A year has passed since then, and no measures have been taken. Catarina has put her house for sale but was told that it had devalued considerably and a buyer would be hard to find.

Such stories are too common in the villages surrounded by monoculture crops within and around Alqueva’s irrigated perimeters.

Fortes: Dirty Olive Oil Production

The other face of the dominating monoculture of irrigated olive trees (over 60% of the EFMA, still increasing and expanding far beyond the official irrigated perimeters) is the industrial units that treat and transform the wastes of the olive oil production process.

Over 70% of the harvest becomes highly pollutant waste.

Fortes is a small village under the municipal authority of Ferreira do Alentejo. Just 300 meters from the village a factory was equipped to transform the waste into processed oil. During the transformation process, the factory emits vast amounts of oily smoke that often drifts towards the village, especially with the southwest winds. Atmospheric conditions cause the smoke to fall on the village.

For over 10 years the population of Fortes is at odds with the owners of the factory, the Azpo Migasa group, pressuring them to modernize their equipment and to stop the emissions. Some changes were made, but the population is still exposed to the oily fog when the wind blows from the factory, causing people to lock themselves in their houses and wait for better winds, while the owners pretend nothing is happening.

Three other units of this kind exist currently in the region. The smell of rancid olives often reaches as far as Beja, the district capital. Thousands of hectares of intensive and super-intensive olive orchards have not reached production age yet, and once we get there, more factories are expected to open and will surely be in operation continuously throughout the year. Rancid olive oil could very well become the unwelcoming fragrance of Alqueva’s Alentejo.

Self-Complacence of Authorities Is Fueling People’s Indignation

Both, the olive oil associations and local government, placed themselves in a critical stance towards the complaints of the people, pointing that our concerns were unjustified and ignorant and that we somehow did not want development for the region. Even at a national scale, in parliament, the same talking points were repeated by the agriculture minister, brushing aside the legitimate concerns of the locals. For me, it made clear how voiceless we are when it comes to the management of our own homelands.

Movimento Alentejo Vivo – A Movement Is Born

At the end of 2018, several citizens started to organize, frustrated with the inaction of public authorities. In May 2019, the Movimento Alentejo Vivo (MAV) was born. Its manifesto was signed by hand by over 400 people, and over 3000 more follow the reports of the movement.

Embedded in the movement are the association Amigos das Fortes, which was formed to fight for the rights of the people of Fortes, ZERO, a national association for environmental sustainability, the Parents Groups of Alfundão and Eco-Comunidades na Planície, a local citizen group.

A Different Development Model Is Necessary For The Region

We are now, more than ever, certain that a different development model is necessary for the region. The detachment of the current intensification model from local communities and ecosystems is ever more obvious, and its consequences are increasingly more visible as time passes.

From the exploitation of migrants and the misuse of soil to the disregard for laws, regulations and local populations – the problems are many and there are no solutions if we, the local communities, are not active creators of our own development.

We Call To Gather

It is time to gather, find our collective vision and build a future that makes sense.

We are organizing a gathering for the Alentejo and calling local communities, activists, environmental and tourism organizations, and all people to join us.

Let us unite knowledge and forces, and discuss how we can implement a new model for Agriculture in the Alentejo and throughout Portugal, to protect our health, income and nature.

Contact / Info:

Movimento Alentejo Vivo — –

ZEROAssociação Sistema Terrestre Sustentável

Eco-Comunidades na Planície

Amigos das FortesAssociação Ambiental Amigos das Fortes

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About The Author

The Alentejo Living Movement (MAV) is a citizen movement that emerged to ensure the sustainability and prosperity of the Alentejo region (Portugal). It was formed at a time when the accelerated transformation of our region shows worrying impacts that jeopardize our present and future, given the inability of the institutions and authorities to oversee and respond to a potencial ecological disaster. We mobilized! For the implementation of legislation and rules appropriate to the impacts of intensive agriculture projects; For a more effective supervision of agricultural activities by the responsible entities; For the promotion of sustainable agriculture that respects the environment, our heritage, public health and the quality of life; For a real envolvement of local communities in the creation of our development model.

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