Life in the Altiplano is tough. Water scarcity, extreme climate conditions and soil erosion pose challenges for people living here. Yet there is the potential to restore 1,000,000 hectares of land based on sustainable business cases.
The Altiplano is a semi-arid steppe: a transition between desert and forest. There’s too little rain for a forest to grow but the soil is too moist for deserts. So, on this high plateaued landscape, water is and always has been scarce.
Despite these conditions, the Altiplano is long-lived. Caves in the mountains – first inhabited by early humans – were occupied well into the 19th century. At this time, people living in the Altiplano made a living from various agricultural sources. Esparto – a grass used for basketry– provided an income in addition to growing cereals and herding sheep.
However, the introduction of synthetic fibres led to the collapse of the esparto industry in the 1950s. Since then, lack of economic opportunity forced many to move away to find a living and the region continues to suffer from a declining population.
Today the economy is still mainly based on agricultural activity. Yet as the soil is low on organic matter (skeletal one) and has a low depth, the capacity to retain water is limited. Climate extremes such as high temperatures and torrential rains erode topsoil: each year, 20 tons/hectare of soil is lost. So, the Altiplano is a challenging landscape to produce food and regenerate vegetation. This is compounded by rural abandonment resulting in lack of management which further degrades soil.
Yet there is huge opportunity for the region. The Altiplano is well-known for its 100,000ha of rain-fed almond production. People herd Segureño lamb – a product that has a protected geographical indication. And there is great potential to establish sustainable business cases which are founded on practices that replenish soil, water and lead to a healthy landscape.
AlVelAl – a farmer association – is building a movement in the Altiplano. The initiative unites 5 regions in the Southeast of Spain: Altiplano de Granada, Los Veléz, Alto Almanzora, Guadix and the Northeast of Murcia. The movement has been gathering momentum since 2014 – when Commonland hosted a workshop to co-create a large-scale restoration plan using the 4 Returns Approach.
Revitalizing land and community in the Altiplano
20 year vision
By 2034, we will create a regenerative landscape where nature and agriculture are in balance with the people who live and work there. An ecological corridor connects the Northern and Southern and from East to West mountain ranges. Farms with both natural and productive lands form a mosaic of biodiversity hotspots which act as stepping zones between the natural areas. Many farmers are using practices which regenerate the land. Economic opportunities have been created through the marketing of regenerative produce. Rural abandonment is reversed as young people return and find opportunity in the Altiplano. All this continues to be achieved by inspiring a group of very diverse stakeholders.
The Castril river valley in the AlVelAl territory
By 2034, 800 proud farmers mobilised and inspired
By 2034, 2000+ active AlVelAl members, the association is an example of collective action for restoration with many initiatives sprouting.
The Los Carriles Team growing aromatic plants
By 2034, 60.000 ha under regenerative farming and 125.000 ha positively influenced; 25.000 ha. Corridors between 3 parks established. Rewilding successful.
A one hundred-year old almond tree
By 2034, at least 20 4returns business cases which are conducive to landscape restoration, including regenerative agriculture, infrastructure, energy and environmental services mark.
Pepito de Oro is a regenerative almond brand from La Almendrehesa
The natural zones of the AlVelAl territory are vast and impressive. They are also critical for their ecological functions, such as provision of clean water, habitat for unique flora and fauna and a stable climate. Many of the natural areas are strongly degraded and need restoration based on a sound understanding of the landscape. AlVelAl for example substitutes pine forest with endemic species and creates infrastructures for water harvesting. As a first step, AlVelAl restores public lands creating biodiversity hotspots in the Altiplano. Several other restoration initiatives are planned and the first implementations are ongoing. Over time, this helps create a rehabilitated or restored natural area, serving as ecological corridor in the heart of the Altiplano.
Reforesting the sides of La Muela - an iconic landmark on the high plateau of the Altiplano
AlVelAl is the largest area in the world for the production of rain-fed organic almonds. The area contains 100,000 hectares of almond groves. Most of the farms suffer from degraded soils, poor water infrastructure and biodiversity loss. By applying advanced green production techniques, or ‘regenerative farming’, the almond farmers can reverse the ecological damage.
Therefore AlVelAl promotes and facilitates the transition to regenerative agriculture in the combined zone. Regenerative agriculture includes a set of techniques that restore the soil and retain water. Some practices include the use of compost, as well as cover crops and perennial plants so that the bare soil is never exposed. For the next years we aim to move from ‘niche to norm’ with the application of regenerative farming practices, inclusive of restoring natural zones on farms.
Regenerative almond production in the altiplano: swales capture, retain and filter rain water to regenerate the land
In the economic zone, unlocking the market demand for 4 returns products and services is key. Together with local producers AlVelAl has developed the almendrehesa concept: an integrated production system that combines almond and local trees, aromatic oil crops, active bee hiving, lamb farming. La Almehendrehesa markets regenerative almonds, allowing farmers to generate a higher margin on their sustainable produce and investing in restoration of their farms. Other business cases, for centennial olive oil and compost for example, are being developed. AlVelAl also develops supply and value chains of local produce to touristic areas.
Gorafe in the Altiplano of Granada
- Natural zone restoration: water harvesting; native reforesting semi-arid steppe ecosystem to promote endemic biodiversity
- Facilitate transition to regenerative agriculture: integrated agroforestry; water harvesting;
- 4 Returns business development: market regenerative products (e.g. almonds, olives) to local and international market
- Inspiration: awareness building, growing the network of AlVelAl membership
Santiaga Sánchez Porcel manages integrated agroforestry to raise segureño lamb, just like her parents and grandparents before. (Photo: Erica ten Broeke)
Role of business
The almendrehesa is an integrated agroforestry system. It combines almonds and endemic trees with aromatic plants, active bee-hiving and lamb farming. A farmer-driven company – La Almendrehesa – processes and markets produce from the almendrehesa system. The following business cases emerge from this concept:
- Regenerative almonds
- Regenerative olive oil
- Aromatic herbs
- High quality organic honey
- Segureño lamb
The AlVelAl territory in 2020
Achieved so far
- 300 AlVelAl members
- More than 80 farmers participating in landscape restoration
- 45 farmers applying hydric corrections capturing water in the landscape
- 12 new farmers rolling out regenerative practices on entire farm
- 85,000 trees planted since 2017
- 10,000 ha under improved regenerative management