Pilot Ambassador

Ana Tomás (MVarc)

Pilot Facilitator

Jo Smith (MVarc)

João Palma
Moinhos de Vento de Baixo, 7750-217 Espirito Santo, Portugal

A farm re-design to boost climate resilience, productivity and profitability in semi-arid, southeast Portugal

Explore the farm


Mértola, Portugal

The Curralões farm spans nearly 240 hectares of land in Alentejo, a region of southern Portugal characterised by extensive farming and a semi-arid climate. The 30-year average annual precipitation is 548mm, but for the last 15 years, the annual mean for the area has been around half, highlighting that the impacts of climate change are already happening.
Curralões Organic farming system Components Trees Crops Animals Curralões Portugal Agroclimatic zone Mediterranean
Formerly home to extensive livestock production, in 1994 the land was planted with over 130,000 stone pine trees to help against soil erosion by wind and water, as well as to increase carbon storage. The land managers, with the involvement of Moinhos de Vento Agroecology Research Centre (MVarc) and AGROMIX, are exploring the option of opening the land up for innovative mixed farming.
The pilot facilitator , Jo Smith, tells us more:
“The farm itself with the pine trees, it’s not a productive farm. The pines are not productive, they don’t produce stone pines because of the climate. The only income for the farm is from CAP payments, so from government subsidies. As we know that’s quite volatile, so what we want to do is introduce a productive element of the farm, which maintains the trees buts makes it independent from subsidies."
The family-owned farm near the town of Mértola currently has no staff and extremely low annual production of pine nuts. It has been managed by neighbours for hunting game, which plays an important role in the local economy. Agriculture rules prompted the land managers to consider diversifying the land with other enterprises, including livestock, aromatic plants, fruit and nuts and grapevines all the while promoting sustainable land use.
So the pines, it’s a monoculture, it’s a plantation, so the idea is to diversify that, either by potentially bringing in news species of trees, more well adapted to the environment, so maybe almonds or pistachios or to bring in an agricultural element, probably not crops but maybe pasture for livestock.
As part of this diversification, a new enterprise is under development. Cistus ladanifer (rockrose) is currently considered a weed that needs to be controlled in order to be eligible for common agricultural policy (CAP) payments and this is carried out using heavy disc harrows that causes soil erosion and degradation.
MVarc has noted that these mixed agricultural techniques could help boost the land’s resilience to the effects of climate change while boosting its productivity and preserving its value for local wildlife, which includes the endangered Iberian lynx.

However, this shrub is an aromatic plant that produces a highly valuable essential oil and the farm is trialling a new approach to sustainable shrub harvesting and management that turns a negative — a weed to be controlled — into a positive — an additional income independent from subsidies.

The pine trees at the Curralões farm are planted in lines, creating alleyways sheltered from the extreme heat of the summer which could buffer crops from extreme temperatures and wind exposure. These can also naturally offer shade and shelter for livestock such as goats, sheep and cattle.

Why agroforestry?

“Agroforestry has many benefits in terms of resilience to climate change, by diversifying the system it can buffer any extremes of climate- Trees obviously provide that shade and protect the soil. I think that diversity is key here as well as maintaining the tree cover….”


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