The main projects running in 2018 include:
- Restoration of mountain La Muela in the natural park Sierra María Los Vélez with 50,000 trees planted of oaks, juniper, and Aleppo pine species;
- Many farms on the journey towards regenerative farming, where AlVelAl is providing technical advice, workshops and enables pilot projects;
- Commercialization of high-quality almonds produced by La Almendrehesa (86 tons purchased and commercialised in 2018);
- The touristic project “Destination Alvelal” to promote regenerative agriculture and to develop the supply and value chain of regenerative produce towards touristic centers on the Spanish coast in collaboration with TUI Care Foundation;
- The project ‘AlVelAl 8000: Sculptures with life’ to restore public land with aromatic herbs in the shape of the famous 8,000 years old cave painting that are iconic for the region.
Embeded in these projects are 4 successful business cases:
La Almendrehesa is Alvelal’s first 4-returns business case. Based on the business case, a farmer-driven trading company of the same name was founded in 2016 to process and market produce from the almendrehesa ecosystem*, firstly focusing on almonds, later on adding other produce such as wine, cereals, honey, aromatic herbs, olives and segureño lamb. All of these are produced by farmers of the Altiplano by applying regenerative agriculture practices. By 2019 the company had 21 shareholder farmers and 8 partnering farmers cultivating 1600 hectares of almond orchards.
* The almendrehesa ecosystem is an integrated production system: combining almond and endemic trees, with aromatic herbs, cereals, grapes, active bee hiving and lamb farming. Such an ecosystem increases its resilience, decreases erosion, restores the water balance, enhances biodiversity and beautifies the landscape.
Figure 1. The 4 business cases
The business strategy of La Almendrehesa is two-fold: it offers farmers a higher price for their produce, enabling them to invest in their farms; it also offers clients a high-quality product, which is not only produced following organic principles but actually contributes to landscape restoration.
Almonds produced by La Almendrehesa farmers are sold in both retail and wholesale markets. Premium quality, big size almonds are marketed under the retail brand “Pepita de Oro” (golden seed) primarily in Spain, but also in other countries such as Germany and the UK. The package of Pepita de Oro is made from agricultural waste and renewable resources and 100% compostable. Smaller almonds enter the wholesale market internationally as diversified products such as roasted almonds, almond oil and press cake meal.
La Almendrehesa hopes to scale up its regenerative almond turnover from 86 tons in 2018 to 168 tons in 2021, and to 1,000 tons in 2036, which is equivalent to an increase of regenerative almond farming areas from 1,600 hectares in 2018 to 6,000 hectares in 2021 and 24,000 hectares in 2036.
The company is in contact with important market players to distribute its product nationally as well as internationally. It has also attracted some impact investment capital to expand infrastructure, diversify products, set up marketing, and continue restoring the landscape of the Altiplano.
La Muela is an iconic mountain in Spain. Commonland has restored 400 hectares of land and taken actions to stop erosion and degradation. On steep slopes where water infiltration is difficult, it focuses on water retention and reforestation of endemic species. In the lower region, it has started an innovative project to make aromatic products; the aerial view of the aromatic fields resembles local ancient rock art.
La Junquera is AlVelAl’s largest farm. Owned by Madrid native Alfonso Chico de Guzmán since 2012, the farm consists of 1100 hectares located 70 km west of Murcia, the city that gives its name to the whole province. Characteristics of this region are the semi-arid climate, the very low precipitation, the mountainous terrain with an average of 1000 meters high, and the sparse population. The agriculture in the province is based on cereals, rainfed almonds, olives and the local ‘Segureño’ sheep breed.
Experiencing the serious erosion and desertification problems of southern Spain (desertification threatens 75% of Spanish territory and 90% of Murcia province), Chico de Guzmán has been implementing farming techniques adapted to climate change, erosion, and the extreme dry conditions of Murcia. By introducing “regenerative” practices such as building silt traps and ponds, limiting tilling, carving swales to collect rainwater and sediment traps to catch nutrient-rich topsoil, he is trying to restore the soil’s health, hold back the advancement of the desert, and bring back life to La Junquera village. "This farm has been in my family for five generations… But climate change is affecting this area quite fast. Part of the soil was very badly eroded. We were hitting bedrock when we were digging under the topsoil," recalls Alfonso, who says soil loss in his farm reaches 40 to 50 metric tons per hectare per year, about the double of the region’s average.
La Junquera has been slowly transformed into a beacon of regenerative agriculture in southern Spain according to the 4 returns principles of Commonland. The main organic commercial crops in the farm are cereals (500 ha) and almonds (300 ha). There is also production of pistachio (6 ha), walnuts, apples, cherries, grapevines and vegetables. About 300 hectares have diverse natural zones, some of them steep, rocky, densely forested, bare or degraded.
*All figures are till March 2019.
In the centre of La Junquera is the Regeneration Academy, a young organization created with the aim to offer “a transdisciplinary learning environment for those people and organizations who want to co-create the future of farming and food.”
For the academy, regenerative agriculture and land use is an essential part of its future food system. The academy works with young professionals, students and entrepreneurs, rural communities, universities, institutes and organizations connected to regenerative agriculture and ecosystem restoration.
The farm and the academy coexist in symbioses: the farm facilitates land and infrastructure, while the Regeneration Academy helps the farm make better decisions on restoring landscape, biodiversity and sustainable profit. “Conventional farming practices are causing many problems in the region which is already one of the poorer regions in Europe. On a farm level, this means soil erosion and decreasing fertility, decline of biodiversity, lack of water (both drinking and farm use). On community level, this means rural abandonment because of lack of possibilities, greying, outmigration, and a lack of inspiration among young people… Regenerative practices not only help to reduce erosion, improve fertility and increase water infiltration, but also increase dramatically the biodiversity,” says the academy.