Restoring the landscape by building a movement
A story of how a 1 million hectares degraded landscape is undergoing a 20-year transformation.
Like many other areas in the Mediterranean, the Altiplano Estepario in the Southeast of Spain suffers from severe land degradation, desertification, climate change effects, rural abandonment and unemployment. But there is hope for the Altiplano.
Since 2014, the AlVelAl Association has been building a movement in the Altiplano. AlVelAl mobilises the local communities to become a self-sufficient region, full of life and growth. To get there, they promote regenerative agriculture techniques that retain and improve soil and water and promote biodiversity.
They mobilise, advice, train and enable farmers to start implementing regenerative agriculture and to develop the market for regenerative produce. As a result AlVelAl developed it’s first business: the company ‘La Almendrehesa’. The business is part of the larger landscape restoration project and is becoming the financial driver for landscape restoration.
AlVelAl is also directly restoring natural zones on farms and on public land in collaboration with natural parks and local authorities. As a recognized Verified Conservation Area they help restore and (re)connect natural areas in the AlVelAl territory.
The initiative unites 5 regions in the Southeast of Spain: Altiplano de Granada, Los Veléz, Alto Almanzora, Guadix and the Northeast of Murcia, well known for their production of high-quality rain-fed almonds.
- High plateau semi-arid steppe ecosystem.
- Largest rain-fed almond plantations in the world with more than 100,000 hectares of groves, of which roughly 50,000 hectares are certified organic.
- Challenging conditions: climate extremes, water scarcity and soil degradation and destruction exceeds soil formation
- Decades of depopulation with increasing unemployment rates.
- Active AlVelAl movement is sparking inspiration, sprouting new initiatives and mobilising farmers and communities to regenerate their landscape.
- AlVelAl works with a 4 returns, 3 zones and 20 years vision for the Altiplano landscape.
- The first 4 returns business ‘La Almendrehesa’ has made a successful market-entry, and is a on a good growth-path to process and sell regenerative produce.
What we do
First and foremost, AlVelAl is a movement of people with a focus on sparking inspiration and creating awareness. Inspiration leads to action leads to more inspiration and so the movement grows.
Together with their partners, AlVelAl organises events that promote and respect the knowledge of the participating farming and entrepreneurial professionals. They support the recovery and expansion of the protected natural areas and encourage the restoration of biological corridors.
Since 2014, AlVelAl has directly engaged and exposed thousands of people to their work through events and 4 returns businesses and initiatives.
Projects and businesses sprouting from the AlVelAl initiative:
- AlVelAl together with the Junta de Andalusia, Ecosia and the Ecosystem Restoration Camp, planted 50.000 trees on La Muela Mountain, in the natural park Sierra María Los Veléz,of which 78% of the trees are still alive after the first monitoring.
- Many farms are on the journey to regenerative farming. Among them is La Junquera farm which hosts the Regeneration Academy, the world’s first Ecosystem Restoration Camp and was the venue for the first Re-Generation Festival held in the territory of AlVelAl in September 2018.
- La Almendrehesa, AlVelAls first 4 returns business that processes and markets regenerative produce from the Altiplano.
- The ‘Destination AlVelAl’ project together with the TUI Care foundation started in 2018 with the aim to encourage sustainable tourism linking local food products like almonds, olive oil, honey and wine to off-takers in holiday destinations, both tourists and restaurants.
- The project ‘AlVelAl 8000: Sculptures with life’ aims 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.
- Through a collaboration with Sound Matters, several “Soundscapes of Resilience” were created resulting in an EP comprising 6 tracks that integrate the sounds of landscape restoration (soil, water and biodiversity) with sounds, voices and music recorded in the AlVelAl territory mixed with organic and electronic beats (see also Soundcloud).
- Enarmonía: business that improves the design of farms, for example by earthworks to improve water retention. AlVelAl enabled Enarmonía to purchase a machine to excavate swales cheaply and easily. Swales can have a big impact on the landscape by effectively reducing erosion, increasing water absorption and improving soil fertility.
Role of business
Processing and marketing of regenerative almonds
Stimulated by the movement AlVelAl is creating, the company ‘La Almendrehesa’ was set up as a financial driver to restore the landscape.
La Almendrehesa is a farmer-driven company that processes, and markets 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. These products are produced by the AlVelAl farmers through regenerative agricultural practices, contributing positively to restoring the landscape of the Altiplano.
La Almendrehesa collaborates with AlVelAl for farmer advice and training. AlVelAl offers advice and coaching to farmers that participate in pilots or those that want to fully transition their farming system. The involved farmers regularly meet at Agro-Café’s, lectures (colloquio’s) and other events organised by the growing AlVelAl community.
In Spanish, La Almendrehesa is a combination of ‘almendra’ (almond) and ‘dehesa’ (grassland). The almendrehesa is a conceptual regenerative 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. This way, the company is deeply connected to the wider 4 returns landscape restoration work of AlVelAl.
La Almendrehesa processes and markets high-quality almonds, later on adding other products from the Almendrehesa ecosystem. La Almendrehesa currently commercializes almonds in two market lines: retail and wholesale. For the retail market La Almendrehesa has developed the line Pepita de Oro ( ‘nut of gold’ ), big size almonds in a 100% compostable package made from agricultural waste.
In addition, the company is working on to offer more products of the land soon, such as wine, olive oil, honey, and aromatic herbs.
From a 4 returns holistic perspective, what could be potential outcomes at a landscape level in 20 years?
This Landscape has the potential to turn the losses from degradation into 4 Returns. The ENABLE team identified potential 4 return outcomes at a landscape level over period of 15 to 20 years.
Return of inspirationBy 2034, 500 proud farmers mobilised and inspired
Return of Social CapitalBy 2034, 2000+ active AlVelAl members, the association is an example of collective action for restoration with many initiatives sprouting.
Return of Natural CapitalBy 2034, 60.000 ha under regenerative farming and 125.000 ha positively influenced; 25.000 ha. Corridors between 3 parks established. Rewilding successful.
Return of Financial CapitalBy 2034, at least 10 business cases conducive to landscape restoration, including regenerative agriculture, infrastructure, energy and environmental services markets.
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.
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.
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.
More about the landscape
Hectares: 1000000 ha
Get in touch
4 Return trading company for organic regenerative productsView info
Laura Núñez Álvarez
Monitoring and EvaluationView info
Belén SánchezView info
Marina LópezView info
Coordinator project "Destination AlVelAl"View info
Fernando Bautista Expósito
Field TechnicianView info
This story's toolbox
Maps of Geology, Natural Zone, Combined Zone and Economic Zone in the Altiplano Estepario. Edition of April 2019 created by […]