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Almargem joins western Algarve avocado battle

avocadoEnvironmental association Almargem has put its weight behind Barão de São João locals protesting at the wholesale destruction of natural Algarve trees, removed as part of a land clearance operation to make way for a vast avocado farm.

Cork oaks and carob trees have been destroyed by fruit company Citago*, based near Loulé, which commissioned land clearance across nearly 80 hectares of countryside - with more planned.

Almargem has challenged the permission given by the Regional Directorate of Agriculture for this company to create a monoculture of thirsty avocado trees in a highly sensitive natural area.

In a recent interview with the newspaper O Barlavento, the Regional Director of Agriculture, Fernando Severino, said that "...there is room for everything ... the carob trees are uprooted to give way to other crops, whether it be avocado, whether it be citrus fruit."

Local residents were quick to complain to the GNR’s SEPNA environmental crime unit, as protected cork oaks also had been destroyed by machinery often being used under the cover of darkness. This resulted in Citago paying a small and affordable fine for destroying the oaks.

The fruit company is intent on extending the avocado plantation over a further 50 hectares, bringing it close to the border of the Espiche golf course which prides itself on environmentally friendly practices and a rigorous water management regime.

With an avocado farm next door, the Espiche golf course will be affected by glyphosate and pesticide use - and a pollution threat to the shared aquifer.

Almargem says the Regional Directorate for Agriculture has been highly irresponsible in allowing the destruction of yet more of the Algarve’s traditional Mediterranean landscape and is preparing a complaint to UNESCO as that part of the Algarve region is gearing up to become an area classified as ‘Cultural Heritage of Humanity of the Mediterranean Diet.’

Whether this complaint will do any good remains to be seen but the land clearance, fully endorsed by the regional agricultural directorate, has been carried out. With the current high demand for avocados, the State's regional organ seems happy to see natural areas destroyed to enable intensive farming.

The company behind Espiche golf course was forced to jump through hoops in a planning process lasting decades, much of which concentrated on the appreciation of this western Algarve area as unspoiled countryside, chemical free and lacking in abundant water supply.

Obsessive attention to water use by the golf course's managing company was the key reason that permission finally, and grudgingly, was granted, so an intensive farm next door, spraying chemicals and drawing millions of litres from a common aquifer, brings into question the regional planning and environmental protection laws.



The avocado tree's irrigation needs:

Avocado trees are native to subtropical climates where rainfall is abundant, so when they are grown in a Mediterranean climate with low rainfall, it is important to keep the trees well irrigated.

A young avocado tree in summer needs several applications per week of between 20 and 100 litres per tree.

Avocado trees are sensitive to soil water availability. Even a mild moisture stress at critical stages can lead to fruit shed or leaf drop. This can lead to significant reduction in yield and impact negatively on orchard profitability.

Avocado trees have evolved under rainforest conditions which has resulted in them having:

  • Limited adaptation to hot dry climates as they have only partial control over moisture loss
  • A relatively shallow root system, with up to 80% of the moisture being obtained from the top 30cm of soil. In many orchards in Mediterranean climates the greater percentage of fine avocado roots are in the top 15cm of soil as the root system does not search for water. It is these fine roots that are the primary water and nutrient absorbers.
  • None of the ultra-fine root hairs present in many other crops such as apples or peaches. As a result they are not as able to search for and extract water that is tightly held to soil particles.
  • A low tolerance to salts, particularly chlorides

In Western Australia, farmers plan for 2.5 million litres per hectare per months in the hot season and Californian farmers supply mature trees with 1,100 litres ‘per tree, per year.’

Whichever way the water needs are worked out, the tree is thirsty and does not have a robust, deep root system, making it highly sensitive to drought and reliant on high volume irrigation.


* Citago Lda, Morada: Rua da fonte, 4, Santa Margarida, 8100-033 Alte . Tel: +351 289 478 209 Fax: +351 298 478 814 Email: geral@citago.pt

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0 #2 Peter Booker 2017-11-10 09:39
Is Citalgo is owned by Severino´s brother-in-law?
+4 #1 Mike Towl 2017-11-10 07:41
Good article, it's an absolute monstrosity.

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