Revitalizing Portugal’s Montado: Regenerative Grazing and Sustainable Agriculture.

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Reviving an Ancient Agrosilvopastoral System

The picturesque landscape of Alentejo, Portugal, is witnessing a transformative regenerative grazing project that aims to restore soil health and support biodiversity. At Herdade S. Luís, black Iberian pigs, Merino sheep, and Serpentina goats graze harmoniously under the shade of holm oak trees. The goats, in particular, play a crucial role in preventing summer fires by clearing the undergrowth. Meanwhile, Jose Mendes, a skilled cork cutter, carefully extracts cork from the majestic cork oaks, ensuring the trees remain unharmed.

Montado: A Perfect Blend of Livestock, Trees, and Crops

Herdade de S. Luís is part of Montado, a traditional land-use system that combines trees, livestock, and crops. Montado thrives in the challenging Mediterranean climate of southern Portugal, where drought and desertification pose significant threats. Despite these challenges, Montado has proven to be a resilient and productive system, creating abundance even in conditions of scarcity. The integration of livestock into Montado not only prevents fires but also fertilizes the soil through their consumption of acorns while benefiting from the shade of the oak trees.

A Rich Ecosystem with Environmental Significance

Montado is not only agriculturally productive but also an ecosystem of great environmental value. It supports numerous species, including endangered wildlife such as the Iberian Lynx and the Imperial Eagle. By incorporating trees adapted to dry lands, diverse animals, and crops, Montado enhances food production, builds healthy soil, regulates water cycles, prevents erosion, promotes biodiversity, and sequesters carbon. It is recognized as High-Nature-Value Farmland and is protected under the European Union Habitats Directive.

Regenerative Grazing: A Modern Approach to Soil Health

Building upon the centuries-old tradition of Montado, Francisco Alves, the owner of Herdade de S. Luís, combines regenerative techniques to enhance soil health and produce high-quality food. Chemicals are avoided, and the soil remains undisturbed through a no-ploughing practice. Alves employs a rotational grazing system, carefully managing where and for how long animals graze. Electric fencing limits their access to specific areas, allowing grazed land time to recover. This multi-species regenerative grazing mimics the natural movement of herbivores through the landscape and contributes to soil health and animal welfare.

Addressing Sustainability and Controversy

While regenerative grazing holds promises of respecting soil and ecosystems, it is not without controversy. Livestock is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. However, well-managed grazing can maintain healthy ecosystems, improve soil quality and carbon storage, and offset a portion of emissions from the grazing sector. It is crucial to strike a balance and implement low-density grazing to prevent soil compaction and erosion. Some critics argue for the highest yield from the smallest land area to minimize the environmental impact of farming. Nevertheless, regenerative grazing, when practiced sustainably, can coexist with healthy ecosystems and low greenhouse gas footprints.

Embracing a Sustainable Future

Alves acknowledges that regenerative grazing alone cannot satisfy the world’s current meat consumption. Instead, he advocates for a shift toward consuming less but higher-quality meat. Many vegans who have visited his farm appreciate the environmental benefits of this approach. The Montado landscape and its rich biodiversity have adapted to centuries of traditional land use, making it essential to preserve this unique system. Through the combination of ancient wisdom and modern regenerative practices, Montado offers a glimpse into a sustainable future that nurtures the environment while meeting the demands of food production.

SOURCE: Ref Image from Interfarms

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