Between fields of oaks, herds of Iberian pigs and flocks of merino sheep, we find a new generation that is returning, full of knowledge, to the land that saw its parents born. And it is willing to save her from her multiple threats. Among them, depopulation, a scourge that just two weeks ago in Madrid summoned tens of thousands of people who demanded urgent measures to save what they call "Spain emptied".
It is in this context that, supported by new techniques of regenerative agriculture, this generation is creating an oasis where until now it had only announced a slow death for the dehesa. We interviewed five women who struggle to rebuild this paradise of biodiversity that is threatened by uncontrolled grazing, lack of regeneration and yes ... also depopulation.
The meadows are unique ecosystems of southern Europe, natural spaces of high ecological value adapted by the human being, acultural and environmental legacy fruit of the careful work of many generations. Only in Spain, the dehesa covers 3,550,000 hectares of territory concentrated mainly in the southwest of the peninsula. More than a third of the territory is located in Extremadura, where it becomes a symbol and expression of its landscape, its hallmark. The dehesa also includes other significant territories, such as the Valle de los Pedroches in Andalusia, and extends to a lesser extent to other communities of Castilla León or the Community of Madrid, with just 100,000 hectares.
Its fields are the result of a Difficult balance between livestock activity and environmental care. The survival of its oaks and cork oaks are key to keeping livestock, but also endangered species, like the imperial eagle, the Iberian lynx and the black merino sheep. The dehesas, moreover, act as natural firebreaks and climate regulators, but this unique landscape, unique in its kind, is threatened. The lack of natural regeneration, the intensification of livestock and the decline of trees due to a growing epidemic called "the dry", are causing Massive death of trees since the 90s. "The dry" is caused by different factors, including a pathogen called phytophthora, which enters the roots, rots and ends up killing the tree. In fact, only in Extremadura there are more than 75,000 hectares affected and some 5,000 outbreaks.
ANA TREJO AND ALMUDENA SÁNCHEZAna (37 years old) and Almudena (35 years old) are part of the cooperative project Laneras. They live in Hervás (Cáceres) and studied Image and Social Work, respectively. Ophelia of grandson and javier zurita
A swarm of children laugh around Ana and Almudena, "laneras". The little ones pick up the threads that are on the tables, they make wool balls and they stick them one by one on a piece of paper to build a merino sheep. At the back of the room there is a blackboard with some nice drawings and a question is written: "Where does a blanket come from?" And some arrows that lead you to the answer: "From the pasture to your bed". It is one of the social workshops that "laneras" are giving in Casar de Cáceres for bring the world of wool closer to the youngest. Almudena Sánchez, a native of Cáceres, taught her how to weave her mother.
One day I asked myself: 'What do I make with acrylic if I live surrounded by merino sheep?' "
At home, wool was always present, but over time it began to become increasingly difficult to find balls. "One day I asked myself:" What do I do knitting with acrylic if I live surrounded by merino sheep? ". From that moment on things began to change in his head and in his heart. He had studied Social Work in Salamanca and lived in Granada, France and Madrid, but at age 24 he decided to return to his homeland. With her friend Ana Trejo, from the town of Montijo, in Badajoz, they decided to do something so that the tradition of wool would not be lost in the pasture. And what began as almost a claim has become his life.
In 2015 they developed the Laneras project. "The idea is that it becomes a catalyst to create local employment," says Ana. Almudena points out that it is not just about revaluing the raw material, but about helping also encourage extensive livestock and, with it, the black merino sheep, originally from these lands and that is currently in danger of extinction. Both complain about the lack of aid from the Administration, "there are not even laundries for wool in Extremadura and we have to take it to Portugal".
MARÍA DOLORES CARBONERO41 years. It's from Pozo Blanco, Córdoba. Doctor in Agronomic Engineering and researcher from the University of Córdoba. Ophelia of grandson and javier zurita
At half past seven in the morning, María Dolores is in Pozo Blanco, in the heart of the Pedroches Valley (Córdoba), armed with a hoe, oak saplings and a good roll of wire. Today he has come with his father to help him replant trees on the family farm. "My father is a teacher, the son of ranchers, but he has been taking care of these oaks for 20 years. He has taught me everything about them, he has been the first regenerator of these lands, "says Dolores, who became an agronomist and researcher for" love of the land ".
If we do not take care of this ecosystem, our identity will die with it. "
After finishing his doctorate at the Higher School of Agronomists and Montes de Córdoba, he could have gone to work anywhere in Spain, but decided that all his work had to be used to help a land that, in his opinion, "is suffering a slow death due to lack of regeneration. " Her first "serious" job, as she says, was with the university, evaluating the environmental sustainability of livestock farms in the pasture. "This is a unique ecosystem in the world," Dolores defends, "but if we do not take care of it, it will die, and our identity will do so with it." The engineer has invested her life in investigate the causes of this deterioration and now, with the NGO World Wide Foundation and the University of Córdoba, has developed a regeneration plan: "Trees are not eternal, they have their age and evolution, they die and we have to try to replace them". To ensure the effectiveness of this project, they have created so-called demonstration farms, such as that of their cousin, Rafael Muñoz "where we explain to the farmers how to carry out this process of putting new feet on the ground: we teach them to plant new oaks and how to protect them so that cattle do not eat them. "
Maria Dolores knows that this is a land with many possibilities, "we have already created a identity mark linked to our Iberian pig and to this wonderful landscape. We have a very important culture and natural values, but we can only have a future if we all learn to take care of it ".
ROCÍO CORTÉS BERMEJO28 years. Pastrora titled by the School of Shepherds of El Casar de Cáceres. Ophelia of grandson and javier zurita
I do not want to see any more, I saw myself in the field, but I ended up studying for a pastor. "
"When I entered the school of pastors, my friends laughed at me:" Do you study for a pastor? "They said. But now that I have a project underway to start up my own livestock exploitation in co-ownership, they do not take it as a joke anymore. " Rocío was born in Casar de Cáceres, in a land where her grandparents had also been dedicated to livestock. However, he says that he started in this "for love", not for genetics: "My husband has a cattle farm and, as a couple, I helped him by milking or uploading the chotos to a truck, but nobody, not even me, I saw myself in the field. "
But he soon discovered that he was very good at it. "It is that nothing has to do to be a man or a woman, we are just as valid as they are". One day they told him about the School of Pastors, created in 2016 and until now the only one that exists in Extremadura. So Rocío "pulled the blanket over her head" and plunged headlong into the studios until the degree was obtained. "They helped me a lot in school because I have a four-year-old son and they gave me everything to study," says the pastor. Now, he wants to take a step forward and buy 40 more cows to join them to the exploitation of her husband and so direct it with him in co-ownership. "Livestock women carry all their lives in the countryside but they are invisible, they work like men but they are not registered and, therefore, they lack rights. It is time for us to reclaim our role, from here I encourage you to do it, "he says emphatically.
As soon as you get the co-ownership of the farm, it will become one of the only 10 women of the Extremadura pasture who are co-owners. Rocío points out that there are many young people struggling to change things in the pasture: "Many people are throwing sustainable projects that would help to give a future to a land threatened by depopulation, but administrations also have to do their part, "he adds. Rocío believes it is necessary to create a Land Bank: "It would be perfect to be able to unite the elderly, who can not take care of their fields, with young people who do not have the land to begin with," he says.
MARÍA CATALÁN BALMASEDA30 years Biologist He was born in Madrid but his whole family is from Cabeza del Buey (Badajoz). Ophelia of grandson and javier zurita
Maria had always felt the call of her land, but it was when she had a son that she decided to leave the city and raise him in a rural environment. Returning to her parents' land and helping her to get back on her feet, had always been among her plans. In fact, he studied Biology and is specialized in the restoration of ecosystems and in holistic management, a system of agroecological grazing, which takes into account the management of the territory, soil recovery and the fight against desertification. Currently, María works with the ACTYVA cooperative and the University of Extremadura, as part of a project to measure the effect of the dehesa's redileo.
It has always been a masculine world: we bring an integrating vision ".
The ACTYVA Cooperative is an initiative that arises among the young entrepreneurs of Extremadura. Using the networks, they have managed to bring to Extremadura pastures grazing techniques that are practiced in Australia to help regenerate them. In fact, with the project called aleJAB, they are the node in the Iberian Peninsula of the Savory Institute of Australia, and as such, they are part of a global ideas laboratory. Other projects of the cooperative focus on indigenous merino wool, bio-architecture and local artisan products.
The main function of María Catalán is to provide technical support and research on good livestock practices. "We must integrate the new regenerative ideas within traditional practices," he maintains. For example, make a planned grazing to concentrate the animals in the poor area of the soil and that is filled with natural fertilizer ".
Paradoxically, this is the most complicated part, because there is still deeply rooted traditions, like the use of chemical fertilizers. That's why demonstration farms are important. "Family farms can be reluctant," says María, "but when they see that it works, they begin to believe that livestock, besides being profitable, can sustain the ecosystem." Maria is also a teacher at the School of Pastors, where there are more and more women. In 2016 there was only one and this year they are 50%. "This has always been a very masculine world, but we bring another vision, much more integrating."
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