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Spanish farmers work with private enterprise to combat desertification

Spanish farmers work with private enterprise to combat desertification
By Jaime Velázquez
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Up to 70% of the entire Spanish countryside could become dry and arid if recovery measures are not taken quickly


It is a desolate landscape — and precisely what 70 percent of Spain could like by the end of the century.

Southeastern Spain is at Europe's frontline in the fight against desertification. Semi-arid zones have grown by 30.000 square kilometers in the past 50 years.

That is why here, in one of the driest and most arid regions in Europe, Spain is building a wall — a wall against climate change.

For Dietmar Roth of the Alvelal Development Association, the cause is urgent: "If we do nothing, this will become a desert very soon. We have reached a critical point."

In this region a public-private venture has planted 50,000 indegenous trees to stop erosion and the waste of tons of fertile soil.

Roth says it is "like a test tube. What are we aiming at? In one hand, creating a micro-climate, and in the other hand, harvesting the water, managing the hydric resources."

A green blanket like this is vital to retaining water and filtering it into the soil.

This is, after all, a region where the annual rainfall is just 200 millimetres per square metre.

This means the earth is losing its organic layer at a rate of two milimetres per year, and retainngevery bit of moistness and life in it is vital, before it turns into infertile sand.

With this in mind, more than 300 people — farmers, cattle ranchers and entrepreneurs — have joined forces to turn things around.

On his farm, Rafael Ordinas allows weeds to grow under his almond trees. That serves as pasture for his sheep, which in turn will fertilise his plantation.

By reducing ploughing to a minimum, the soil keeps its moisture and organic richness.

"The practices we are putting in place, what they achieve is a better preservation of the soil," he says.

"It retains the moisture from the rain. That goes in line with the fight against climate change and desertification."

Rafael and his partners hope that by proving restorative agriculture is profitable, they can the other farmers to abandon their old, unsustainable parctices.

Climate change is knocking at the door — it is growing in the sands of the desert.

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