Today, during the XXIV COVAP Technical Seminars, Experts from different fields relating to the dehesa pasturelands have presented: “The dehesa: environment, conservation and heritage” which advocates a clear and defined commitment from the administration to promote the preservation and regeneration of this landscape, given its unique nature as a production system which effects many areas. As explained during the conference, some of the key elements are: improving the profitability of farms, supporting owners, specifying the regulations that affect management and support from relevant administrative bodies.
The chairman of COVAP, Ricardo Delgado Vizcaíno, stated that “in Los Pedroches we have a huge pastureland and we are obliged to preserve it no matter what, from a social, economic and cultural point of view.” The chairman of the Cooperative has made it clear that “without the intervention of man in the pasturelands, they would not exist.” Furthermore, as the chairman pointed out, it is the livestock farmers who “carry the pasturelands forward and their sustainability depends on the economic viability of livestock farms, especially free range operations, such as cattle, pork and sheep farms.” Delgado Vizcaíno pointed out that the pasturelands have many open fronts, among them the issues relating to the so-called “grazing admissibility coefficient”. The chairman concluded by referring to the project “El Dehesafío”, promoted by COVAP and Pozoblanco Town Council, which will involve a wide range of sectors, including children from the region, in the reforestation of different farms. The chairman also said that only with an awareness and knowledge of the pasturelands will it be possible to move forward in its preservation.
The Minister of Agriculture of the Regional Government of Andalusia, Carmen Ortiz, in charge of closing the conference, highlighted that the Autonomous administration has received more than 200 contributions from almost thirty stakeholders in the industry, for the Master Plan of the project “Dehesas of Andalucía”, a document that addresses the characteristics of these ecosystems, analyzes new uses and opportunities, presents a diagnostic of the current situation and proposes strategies for action. Carmen Ortiz highlighted the “firm will” of the Andalusian Government to accommodate the participation and cooperation of all stakeholders to ensure and promote the highest level of economic, social and environmental sustainability for the pasturelands. In the words of Ortiz, “we need to support the pasturelands, we have been saying for a while now that the pasturelands are not fully understood and I am referring specifically to the grazing admissibility coefficient.” In addition, she pointed out that pastureland subsidies proposed by the European Union do not correspond to the reality of the dehesa and that the reduction in subsidies being debated is a reflection of a “lack of knowledge” about the actual ecosystem. “We are going to continue defending the viewpoint that the pasturelands are an agricultural-farming system and request a change in the grazing admissibility coefficient during the debate that will now be opened to design the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for the period after 2020.”
Ortiz stressed “We have been working together with the Regional Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning to achieve a comprehensive management of the pasturelands, which favors the socio-economic development of the territory, preserves the natural heritage and simplifies procedures, as well as publicizing its values and international status amongst society.” In addition, the Minister backed the Life BioDehesa project, which began in 2012 and ends in June 2018 and is addressing the challenges derived from the development of the pasturelands Act. The project covers issues of great interest to the sector, such as ensuring an integrated management model, preparation of training, advisory and informative materials and a service for the diagnosis of oak decline.
She also underlined the importance of the Network of Demonstrative Pasturelands launched by the regional government (Junta), which includes 37 farms and aims to transfer knowledge, showcase methods of preservation and improvement of grazing, implement management plans and monitor socio-economic and environmental indicators. The Life BioDehesa project involves representatives of the sector, who are working together to implement this initiative.
Pasturelands seen as another cropThe President of Fedehesa, María Pía Sánchez Fernández, demanded an exclusive and differentiated treatment for the pasturelands within the frameworks, regulations and laws that govern them and in their management, because “right now, there are multiple contradictions in the regulations that affect owners and farmers which must be eliminated”. She further said it was necessary for the pasturelands be considered an agricultural cultivation system, as they involve the permanent actions of man on the woodland.
Clemente Mata, professor of animal production at the University of Cordoba, also agrees with these considerations and insisted on the need to establish the pasturelands as being a permanent crop, because in the context of the EU, forestry equates to the lumber sector. Mata underlined all the risks attached to current pasturelands: tree decay, lack of regeneration, “oak dieback”, Iberian quality standards and the Pastures Admissibility Coefficient (CAP), among other laws and plans that “represent a bureaucratic suffocation and generate a very complicated situation for those managing the pasturelands.” Clemente Mata also highlighted the symbiosis between animals, pasturelands and owners as a key element for the future of this environment because the “pasturelands are a dynamic ecosystem, with an unstable balance, whose preservation corresponds to the farmer.”
The importance of regenerationPilar Fernández Rebollo, from the Department of Forestry Engineering at the University of Cordoba, highlighted the status of Los Pedroches as the largest permanent pastureland in Europe and an example of productive natural diversity. Fernández Rebollo also stressed that although we lose trees, "thanks to the efforts of the farmers of Los Pedroches, we gain coverage." In addition, she added that the oaks of the region produce many more acorns than other pastureland areas and that these stand out for their quality.
According to Fernández Rebollo, "the owners of the pasturelands have to undertake the regeneration of trees as yet another task within their farms and replenish around three oaks per hectare every decade." This would add between 10 and 15 trees per hectare every 30 or 40 years, "which will contribute decisively to the rate of regeneration.”
Vicente Rodríguez Estévez, from the Department of Animal Production at the University of Cordoba, reviewed the history of the pasturelands through a series of different images and situations occurring in the pasturelands today. Like the other speakers at the conference, he argued for a clear definition of the concept of pasturelands and reasserted its importance, as did our ancestors, who were above to defend and safeguard these lands in their own way. Rodríguez presented different situations from the past and compared them with current management to highlight the responsibility of those who have preserved this landscape. In addition, he asked the administration not to underestimate the importance of the pasturelands, an environment that, according to different studies, emerged 6,000 years ago.
José Ramón Guzmán, in representation of Life Biodehesa, stated that the problems we are facing are complicated and that there are pasturelands in a critical situation in certain areas of Andalusia. He argued that the processes should be reversed and pointed out that the pasturelands represent a cooperative project, that involves everyone.
The pasturelands as territory and legacy.
The professor of Regional Analysis at the University of Cordoba, Bartolomé Valle Buenestado, gave a broad overview of the geographical nature of the region of Los Pedroches and its particularities: “There are fewer than ten regions in Spain which have the character of Los Pedroches.” Valle Buenestado, who defines the dehesas as an agri-system, highlighted the great importance of this environment to this region, as a symbol of its identity and the need for the inhabitants of the region to know and recognize the “great heritage” they have in their hands. The professor emphasized that the pasturelands are a point of convergence for multiple economic, social and even sentimental factors and argued that we must look at this landscape not only with our eyes, but also with our souls.
Esther Prada Llorente, PhD in Architecture and a painter, agreed with professor Bartolomé Valle about the relevance of this landscape and its ethnographic and evocative power. After outlining its history, Prada Llorente referred to the pasturelands as a living space, stressing the importance of passing on this legacy to future generations.
The mayor of Pozoblanco, Emiliano Pozuelo, expressed a similar opinion at the opening of the meeting, recalling the importance of the pasturelands for the region of Los Pedroches and indicating that the town of Pozoblanco wishes to play a leading role, alongside neighboring towns, in promoting the preservation of this legacy. Pozuelo highlighted the initiative, known as “El Dehesafío” in which the City Council has also participated, as a motor to promote the reforestation of the pasturelands, as also stated by the President of the Cooperative.
Emilio Duró, an epilogue in search of happiness and optimism.
The businessman, consultant and trainer, Emilio Duró, talked about how to adopt a positive mental attitude because "we have to prepare ourselves to last longer than previous generations and adapt to the changes". For Emilio Duró, it is necessary to "overcome the fears to be successful in our life and achieve our goals". The main object of the presentation was “to raise awareness of the need to face life in a positive manner, taking control of things, overcoming excuses and breaking with the belief that we are totally at the mercy of external elements.”
For Duró, “the latest research suggests that the attitude with which we face life is as important, if not more important, than knowledge, when it comes to performing a job. It is estimated that optimistic and happy people produce between 65 and 100% more than pessimists.”