Newbie Exchange in Portugal in July 2021
This article will report on the international exchange by the Bulgarian Newbie team to our Portuguese Newbie team.
Topics included: local policy and best practices in short food supply chains and new entrant support
This summer the University of Evora organized a national visit to the region Idanya-a-Nova and our Bulgarian Newbie team was invited. Idanya-a-Nova is the first bioregion in Portugal, with strong support and local government initiatives for the development of modern agriculture and partnership. Representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture, the Municipality of Evora, new entrants and Steering Group members were involved. We strictly followed the local Covid-19 related restrictions. Despite the restrictions, the field visit held many advantages over an alternative online workshop. There was more room for informal conversations, more opportunities for questions and the exchange of ideas and experiences with both local new entrants as well as local authorities.
The Bulgarian group (4 participants) included:
– Evgenia Achkakanova (PhD researcher at the Institute of Animal Science and a member of the National NEWBIE Steering Group as well as the Executive Director of the Breeding Association Ilf de France in Bulgaria and her family has poultry farm)
– Radina Ivanova (journalist in the newspaper Bulgarian Farmer)
– Toma Machev (business advisor)
– Rositsa Djambazova (director of the Business Incubator – Gotse Delchev, NEWBIE project partner)
We learnt a lot and share the outputs in detail:
Idanya-a-Nova is a municipality with strategic thinking and a vision for sustainable development. Its strategy for sustainable development and the Green Valley Food Lab is impressive ( i-Danha Food Lab in 2016). And even more impressive are the specific actions for implementing the strategy.
In the beginning of 2018, Idanha-a-Nova became the first municipality in Portugal to join the International Network of Eco-Regions IN.N.E.R, established in Italy in 2014. What is an eco or bioregion? It is an area of villages working together for dynamic sustainable development. The objectives of the bioregion are synergy of all the stakeholders related to agro ecology and organic farming to transfer knowledge, valuing traditions, research and innovate in the benefit of people living in rural areas and face the challenges of the climate and agriculture.
The focus is on:
- Encouraging and supporting the start of organic farmers and new entrants
- Encouraging local food consumption by promoting the supply of organic products
- Increasing the processing and marketing of local vegetables and meat products
- Promotion of local food through agricultural festivals and events. In the 2020 agenda there are a variety of festivals such as the Lamb Festival, Watermelon Festival, the Festival of Soup and Meeting of Accordionists, the Festival of Olives and Smoked Meat, the Festival of Hunters and Gastronomy, the Medieval Festival of the Holy Cross and others.
- Encouraging collective selling points (eg. organic markets)
- Support for marketing of specific high value, high quality local products and organic products
- Encourage research to optimize local resources and turning farms into profitable business
- Sharing knowledge and experience through the trans disciplinary Rural World Institute with proposals of all citizens
- Enrichment and preservation of culture and local traditions
Presented projects and initiatives of the municipality of Idanya-a-Nova:
1. Municipal Documentary Center Raiano
A French couple donated their literature and documentation for organic farming to the municipality. They chose specifically for that municipality, because of the municipal support and its striving for organic farming. Thus, every farmer, public organization, school, scientists, researcher have access to a rich database (books, specialized magazines, thematic files, audio and video documents) with information and experience free of charge, and can seek advice on a specific topic of organic animal husbandry, vegetables or fruits.
A business incubator has been established in a rural area with appropriate infrastructure and services to support the activities of 55 companies (90% of which already produce organically) and looking for others, too. They attract not only companies from Portugal, but also from all over the world striving for innovation and revitalization of the territory.
2. Collaborative Laboratory CoLab Food for Sustainability https://www.food4sustainability.org/
The CoLab was created with a wide partnership of stakeholders – 14 organizations: local government, university, research institute, farmers and food industry businesses to build a network to exchange ideas and share experiences. Accelerator Building Global Innovators manages the new collaborative laboratory (July 2019). The funding is 7.8 mln. euros for the initial years of operation and is expected to become self-sustaining by the end of the 3rd year. It is expected to create 21 highly skilled jobs in the Idanya-a-Nova region. Now 15 people are working there.
The aim of CoLab is to solve large-scale problems in food organic systems (eg feed, fish, algae, vegetables) for climate resilience. It will be a pioneer in the transition from linear processes of agricultural food production to a circular economy. It plans to test and implement new approaches to food production systems that can have a positive impact on: reducing the carbon footprint, zero use of chemicals, sustainable intensification (maximizing land use), water conservation and environmental impact, increased efficiency of the food value chain.
The CoLab develops and tests approaches and technologies for sustainable intensification of food production, builds capacity of farmers to adopt state of the art solutions (leveraging digital technologies) and provides education and experimentation for other communities of interest.
The research and innovation laboratory, in collaboration with scientific, technological and higher education institutions, seek to meet national and global knowledge-based challenges by enabling the creation of skilled jobs generating economic and social value in Portugal.
3. Living Lab – while the CoLab establishes partnerships, the living lab develops concepts and tests them in practice, doing serious research and proving the results. They have 13 ha of land in in Ladoeiro and 20 ha plot in Várzea, one part is a test field, and the other part is used for production and delivery to the market. 60 farmers took part in the living Lab. A concept of one of the short supply chains: Bio canteens of Idanha-a-Nova to introduce local season products into schools and elderly homes, dynamization of local small farmers. Increase the incentive to practice organic farming and Network with national and international municipalities. They are still in their beginning and several concepts and initiatives are already being worked on:
Search for a solution to the problem of severely limited water resources and the huge drought. The soil is very dry and sandy, at summers water cannot penetrate in it, not all the fields are irrigated and the water is progressively reducing. We visited the fields where different strips of crops will be tested – a strip of olive trees, then a strip of fruit trees between them vegetable crops such as cabbage and cicla (for mulching, to enrich and moisten the dry soil). It is also planned to plant strips of forest species to shade and reduce water consumption and combat severe climate changes.
Another group is looking for a solution to proper use of food waste from vegetables and fruits, such as the shell of green almonds or the shells of ripe ones. The concept is the food waste to be used to feed insectsor composting, insects to feed fish, and the healthier food to be used. And all the production chain to optimize the resources, to use them effectively and to mitigate the carbon footprint – a circular economy solution. They also organize webinars and training courses.
4. Municipal logistics center in Ladoeiro
A former tomato factory, which is no longer functioning, was purchased by the municipality, renovated and divided into 2 parts: Logistics center and a separate part leased to a cooperative
The logistics center is equipped with machines for sorting and calibrating fruits and vegetables, packaging and preparation for distribution to customers. They also have large refrigeration chambers, separate for organic products. Farmers in the area can make a reservation for the equipment and process their produce and pay according to the volume and time. The maintenance and management is carried out by the municipality. Thus, it is not necessary for every farmer to have their own equipment, in particular small ones.
5. Cooperative of olive growers COOPAGROL
300+ small olive growers are members. They have only an initial entrance fee. The cooperative has equipment for the production of olive oil. The members leave 15% of the olive oil for the service, and non-members 17%. The management of the cooperative has a beautiful design of the olive oil bottles, and each community has its own image on the oil bottle. The paper packaging tells a story with photos of elderly people, once active olive growers, and now sadly remembering the past times of revival and gratitude to the land. The second part is optimistic they hope to attract young people in the region, who will take over and modernize agriculture and regenerate the territory.
The cooperative plans to apply for an olive picking equipment project to help small farms, especially the elder owners.
6. Rural incubator for agricultural land in the Centro de Formação da Várzea
The Ministry of Agriculture provides to the municipality 525 ha state land for a long period of 50 years (300 + ha are irrigated). The municipality divides it into plots and new entrants have access to this land. They can apply for land explaining what they want to grow, why and what area they need. The committee decides on the provision of land on a long-term basis, depending on the plans. The committee includes municipal representatives, a university and a research institute from the region and the Ministry of Agriculture. They have 7 criteria, the most important of which are organic production, jobs creation and sustainability. So far 49 contracts are signed. The initiative attracts modern farms, creates jobs, attracts innovation and technology and regenerates the area.
7. Organic Seed Farm Sementes Vivas https://www.sementesvivas.bio/en/
The farm was established in 2015 with international partnership using the incubator land. They have a long-term contract for 40 years. It is one of the main reasons of choosing the area to start agricultural activity in. The other is the municipalities strong determination to develop innovative and organic farming.
The farm produces, selects and breeds organic seeds for final consumers, producers, nurseries, retail and other European seed companies.
The Portuguese co-owner is an economist who wanted to start farming. He was an intern on a Dutch farms, where he realized that organic farming could be profitable if quality organic seeds were used and there was potential. The Young Farmer program gave him the opportunity to become the only Portuguese owner in an international organic seed company, registered in Idanha-a-Nova, and now it has branches all aver the country and in Spain. He underlines 3 times human resources are key to a successful agri business. 90% of 38 farm employees have higher education. There are also researchers in the team.
4 million euros investment: renovation of buildings, precision equipment and machines that use infrared rays and new technologies to automatically separate and sort seeds, all sizes, even very small ones. We were amazed to see very tiny seeds were automatically separated into fit, completely unfit and those that need more processing.
They invest in research and innovation, test for the most suitable types of seeds according to climate change, strive to introduce water-saving technologies (the most valuable resource in this dry part of Portugal). The test field is a major part of the farm. They experiment with new varieties for different purposes. For example, whether the varieties adapt well to Iberian climatic conditions. They also trail their own produced seeds to check the uniformity, vigor and plant health. Every year they test over 1000 lotes, controlling and maintaining the quality of the seeds.
They grow organic seeds of over 350 different types of vegetables, herbs and even edible flowers. They constantly interact with public institutions and help other farmers in the incubator to switch to organic farming. They are partners with the CoLab Food for Sustainability.
Some of the seeds have an additional biodynamic certificate, DEMETER. Biodynamic certification is even stricter and more specific than organic one. The farm uses very little manure, focused mainly on green manure and crop rotation to maintain fertility, soil cover and soil health
8. Vera Cruz – almond growing, herdade Vale Serrano
The manager is a Brazilian former civil engineer. To establish the almond farm they have explored different places and the conditions, soil, water availability and support by the local government. They have already created plantations of 2 000 ha of almonds and aim to achieve 5 000 ha. They have studied which are the most adaptable and productive almond varieties. The farm applies sustainable agriculture. According to the manager, sustainable agriculture saves resources, complies with the environment, invests in technology and research, however it is a profitable business as well. They invests in research and new technologies to save up to 30% of water consumption, irrigation is drip, and precisely supplied only the needed quantity of water. They monitor the fields with drones to have plant protection where needed. They have their own hives and study the impact on bees of the plant protection they use.
The farm also has a factory for peeling, packaging and storage of almonds, built recently with an investment of 13 million euros after signing a memorandum with the municipality of Idanya-a-Nova in implementation of the municipal strategy for development of the Green Valley of Food. The company is committed to creating jobs in the municipality, using local service providers and cooperating with the Municipal Council and other local public organizations to promote the region.
And one more initiative of another municipality Marvao close to a Nature park
There are a lot of chestnuts available and the municipality is an driver for a partnership of small farmers and the school of tourism to make delicious recipes by the school that with chestnuts. The sweet products add value to the image of the municipality as attractive tourist destination. They also organize annually Chestnut Festival. It is similar to the Bulgarian Natural Park Belasitsa , their festival of chestnuts and traditional foods.
On our way back we discussed in detail that model of an innovative municipality in Portugal for a modern and profitable agriculture and sustainable rural development, how important is the vision and understanding of the public authorities and their support, the role of the live science, research and technology for it, the effective partnership with farmers and what can be done to attract new entrants to take good care of soil, water, plants and to regenerate life in the countryside.