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Standing room only as population takes on avocado monocultures

avocadoThere was standing room only at the “information session” held in Barão de S, João mid-week - and in the middle of the afternoon - in a bid to calm local concern over the stripping of hectares of countryside to make way for yet another massive monoculture, writes Natasha Donn at the Resident.

Speaker Rui Fernandes was representing the latest tropical fruit and vegetable company to ‘come west’, acting as a middle man also for distributors TROPS.

What he said both alarmed and calmed, and to a certain extent he deserved something of a medal for the heckling that he received.

Had he ever encountered such opposition to a monoculture in the Algarve before, we asked? “No”, came the answer. “You people are special...”

But the bottom line remains that this little corner, sitting on an underground supply of water purportedly fed from the Pyrenees (and therefore ostensibly ‘almost limitless’), is being invaded by 200 hectares of thirsty-planting.

With an 18-hole golfcourse already well-established - and no mains drainage for any of the rural homes - in the area, the audience heard how “when they need watering, mature avocado trees require 80 litres of water per day”.

Multiply that figure by the 46,000-plus trees either already existing or due to be planted, and around 3,600,000 litres of water will be being pumped up every day from the ground ‘when trees require irrigation’.

This was the ‘bombshell’ for people whose boreholes reach only 70-80 metres down. Their fear being that any drop in the level of underground aquifers will leave them high and dry.

But there was more. Fernandes explained that TROPS had actually tried to dissuade the planting of avocados because, in their opinion, it was “to risky. “It may not work. The conditions may just not be right”, he explained. “The monoculture that is already up and running has suffered a number of ‘dead trees’, burnt by the frost. Then there are areas with too much wind. This is not the ideal location for avocados”, he said.

If TROPS fears prove well-founded, then monocultures will “switch to citrus fruit” - and that, said Fernandes, “would be much much worse for the environment because of the number of chemicals that have to be used”.

Thus, the session was something of a rollercoaster, with exhortations from many for growers to employ “the ethics of sustainability”.

Fernandes was loaded up with online references to ‘community projects’ that have transformed monocultures from ‘environmental menaces that poison the earth’ to sustainable sources of food for the community - and he assured those pressing suggestions upon him that he would “try and get their points of view considered”.

The Catch-22 in the situation is that over €6 million has been ploughed into the latest project in Matos Brancos and owners Frutineves, of Silves, “want to get the best return for their investment”.

Fernandes intimated that Frutineves had stopped at 80-plus hectares for the planting because “100-hectares is the point at which producers have to undertake an environmental impact study”.

This encouraged more outrage from the floor where speakers insisted that whether it is law or not, Frutineves has a moral responsibility to undertake an environmental impact study.

Now it’s a matter of ‘what next’. Fernandes insisted the projects “need the support of local populations” because thefts from avocado plantations can spell investment ruin.

He said the new plantation would be open to anyone who wants to come for a guided tour.

Says environmental group Terra Saudável, that will be the next step.

But the ‘tragedy’ of this new onslaught on the gentle countryside is that hundreds of ‘dry orchard’ trees have gone forever, and with it locals’ sense of peace in an increasingly frantic world.

http://portugalresident.com/standing-room-only-as-population-takes-on-avocado-monocultures

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com

 

See also: 'Monoculture - an outdated model' - ECO123 looks at the western Algarve's avocado problem'

 

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Comments  

+1 #7 Albert Aftoora 2018-07-22 12:54
The best solution is to charge the company for the water used. As long as any resource is free it will be overused and wasted.
0 #6 Ed 2018-07-22 06:29
Quoting liveaboard:
Quoting Ed:

I think the main point here is "...3,600,000 litres of water will be being pumped up every day..."


Trees don't get watered daily, they get watered weekly. In summer. In my area, people only water their adult fruit trees once a fortnight.
If watered daily, root rot sets in and they die.

I don't know how much more rain water filters into the ground in forests [as opposed to dry hard rocky clay like in Barao] but I seem to recall tree loving environmentalists saying the amount was very large, and that was why we needed more trees.
Especially in areas of hard clay soil like Barao.

There is also an area cooling effect from a plantation this size, which, if the environmentalists of last week can be believed, encourage more local rainfall.

The story about the ground water under south west Portugal being from the Pyrenees is obviously nonsense.


The Fruitineves spokesman had best tell the company that it will be overwatering.

The idea (threat) that citrus needs far more water than avocado also is nonsense.

Irrigation info from California, roughly the same climate as the Algarve,

https://www.californiaavocadogrowers.com/cultural-management-library/irrigating-avocado-trees
0 #5 liveaboard 2018-07-22 00:00
Quoting Ed:

I think the main point here is "...3,600,000 litres of water will be being pumped up every day..."


Trees don't get watered daily, they get watered weekly. In summer. In my area, people only water their adult fruit trees once a fortnight.
If watered daily, root rot sets in and they die.

I don't know how much more rain water filters into the ground in forests [as opposed to dry hard rocky clay like in Barao] but I seem to recall tree loving environmentalists saying the amount was very large, and that was why we needed more trees.
Especially in areas of hard clay soil like Barao.

There is also an area cooling effect from a plantation this size, which, if the environmentalists of last week can be believed, encourage more local rainfall.

The story about the ground water under south west Portugal being from the Pyrenees is obviously nonsense.
-1 #4 Ed 2018-07-21 17:32
Quoting Chip:
"But the bottom line remains that this little corner, sitting on an underground supply of water purportedly fed from the Pyrenees..."

I have to say I find this astonishing, but if this water has travelled around 600km it has not travelled above ground. So if it has travelled underground I would have thought there were hundreds of places in central Portugal where it could be pumped to the surface.


I think the key word here is 'purported'
+2 #3 Chip 2018-07-21 13:10
"But the bottom line remains that this little corner, sitting on an underground supply of water purportedly fed from the Pyrenees..."

I have to say I find this astonishing, but if this water has travelled around 600km it has not travelled above ground. So if it has travelled underground I would have thought there were hundreds of places in central Portugal where it could be pumped to the surface.
+2 #2 Ed 2018-07-21 10:20
Quoting liveaboard:


I think the main point here is "...3,600,000 litres of water will be being pumped up every day..." in an area whose farmers and householders rely on a sensitive underground reserve for their water.

Nobody much minds avocados where there is abundant water, or water whose extraction does not impact others.

This site was chosen because it was cheap to buy and it's on top of a water reserve which, inevitably, it will deplete at the rate of over 10 million litres every three days, or more if the company feels like it - there's no limit.

The water supply also may become affected by the chemicals used in avocado production, unfettered amounts as there deliberately is no Environmental impact Assessment needed due to the area of land covered.

I could go on...
+2 #1 liveaboard 2018-07-21 10:09
I’m a bit confused; my whole life I’ve been told that trees are good, and we need to plant more of them. That they open the soil and let rain water percolate down instead of running off, reducing soil erosion and replenishing aquifers. That they cool the area, and make homes for birds and other wildlife.
Back when tree planting was a glorious activity engaged in by all serious environmentalists, I don’t remember anyone saying “Except avocadoes! Avocadoes are Bad!”
Then there’s farming, food production, labor creation, and export. I was under the impression that these were “good”. Not any more it seems.
Now we’re told that no, trees are “Bad”, they use up all our water and cause fires, and these particular trees are the wrong kind and farming is bad too.
It seems to me that the main difference between “good” trees and “bad” trees, is profit. That is, anything done for financial gain can’t be good.
Perhaps if the plantation was for the benefit of homeless donkeys, they would be “good” trees.

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