The study takes place in the municipality of Montemor-O-Novo, in central Alentejo. An important characteristic of this area is its rurality with the proximity of Lisbon, and along the main axis of exchange between Lisbon and Madrid.
The landscape is composed of a characteristic small-scale mosaic of farm units between 1 and 5 ha, sometimes up to 20ha. This mosaic landscape, composed of land use processes hardly taken in account by authorities in their different policies at the various scales, is nevertheless a provider of environmental and social benefits.
The analysis focuses on two environmental and social benefits. Firstly, sustainable food production and secondly rural vitality. The present case study pays particular attention to the farmers and their collectives actions, their linkage with the other actors of the socio-economic system without forgetting the valuation
of the key stakeholders on the field.
34 case studies were planned by the H2020 PEGASUS project in different farming and forest systems and along the supply chain in 10 EU countries, to:
- examine the issues faced in ensuring effective provision of public goods/ecosystem services from farming & forest activities; and
- find solutions to enable the economic social and environmental sustainability of the EU’s farmed & forest areas.
The focus is on small-scale farmers in a municipality in central Alentejo, Portugal, and their collective actions
with other local actors. Small farmers use of traditional farming methods to produce high quality products marketed via short supply chains.
The globalized nature of the market of food products influences the competitive capacity of small farmers to provide food products, in terms mainly of regularity of the distribution, quantity and certainty of price, and this even if the small farmers are rarely directly connected to the global market. The policies at European or national scale are indirect drivers for this socio-economic system, as the small farmers are not mainly targeted, while other farming types (larger ones) receive support.
Thus these policies have mainly an influence on the activity of the competitors on the market: the financial aid for investment as well as subsidies for production allocated to the larger farmers allows them to be more competitive in the global sphere. However, the demand for local products in the local market and through short supply chains has been increasing slightly, as are observing small farmers involved in these networks. It is important to remark that the farmers are aware of their condition of environmental and social benefits keepers, as one of them said: “We know that what we are doing is good for the society, for the environment, and so on, and we are trying to keep/develop this”.
- Collective action though the MINGA cooperative to sell jointly local, organicproducts. Increasing the scale of the action is however hindered by the current lack of tailored solutions for small farmers.
- Interest from urban consumers in more sustainable and local food products; trend in Portugal towards valorisation and adoption of alternative lifestyle ("newcomer" farmer).
- Effective support of the municipality through the land bank system.
- "Newcomers" created a dynamic which resulted in a reshaping of the local community and bringing new opportunities to re-engage with the public administration.
- Close collaboration and informal networks and knowledge exchange between farmers, benefitting from
traditionally strong rural relationships and informal mutual aid prevailing in Mediterranean countries.
The continuation and enhancement of the environmental and social benefits provided by farmers requires greater empowerment of the existing collective actions by stakeholders (e.g. this could be about being given more autonomy). The lack of involvement from local institutions has been flagged as an overall limitation to being able to develop a strategy and express concerns specific to the local rural area. A way forward could involve the creation of more local institutions, adapted to the territory, simple to access and willing to engage and support existing and new dynamics.
Our first conclusions are that there are some key motivational, institutional and socio-economic factors,
important for taking in account in this particular case:
a. The market and social demand;
b. The access to knowledge;
c. The high level of awareness of the farmers, old farmers and new farmers;
d. Local initiatives supported by the municipality;
e. The proximity to Lisbon;
f. The economic context.
In this particular case, the municipality is configured as a big potential actor in order to improve, promote and assure the quantity and quality of the environmental and social benefits, nevertheless it needs an institutional and law framework for working on this.