Altiplano Estepario, Andalucía/Murcia, Spain

Creating a more regenerative future in the Altiplano Estepario, Spain

The Altiplano Estepario spans five districts at the intersection of Almería, Murcia and Granada, three provinces belonging to Spain’s southernmost region, Andalucía. It is a semi-arid steppe (a large area of flat unforested grassland) and transition zone between desert and Mediterranean forest.

In this landscape, water has always been scarce. Despite these conditions, the area has been home to human settlements for centuries. The economy today is mainly based on agriculture. However, desertification and extreme climate conditions, combined with unsustainable land management practices that have reduced local biodiversity and climate resilience, make the AlVelAl Territory a challenging landscape for local communities.

Since 2014, Commonland’s landscape partner AlVelAl has been using the 4 Returns Framework to bring together local farmers, conservationists, government, and entrepreneurs to create a common vision for the territory. Currently, AlVelAl Association has more than 490 members, including 280 farmers, and has developed three regenerative businesses now in operation: an almond-focused company, an olive oil cooperative, and a food platform to sell regenerative products from across the territory.

AlVelAl and Foundation Aland developed an alliance in 2020. They collaborate to present the AlVelAl Territory as a lighthouse example of holistic landscape restoration based on the 4 Returns Framework in drylands areas. By inspiring other initiatives in Spain and Portugal, the aim is to create a 4 Returns Network across the Iberian Peninsular.

“If we want to keep farming into the future, it needs to be done regeneratively. Every year we grow more and better: what we’re doing is the future of agriculture.”

Maikel Lara, local farmer within the AlVelAl territory

Vision

By 2034, the AlVelAl Territory is a regenerative landscape where nature and agriculture are in balance. An ecological corridor connects the region’s mountain ranges. Farms with both natural and productive lands form a mosaic of biodiversity hotspots, which act as stepping zones between natural areas. Rural abandonment is reversed as young people return and find new opportunities. The area continues to regenerate, led by a group of diverse, inspired local stakeholders.

“At the moment people move from away the region to find work. I’m inspired by being part of a project that transforms a territory so that the younger generation, so that my daughters can choose to live here.”

Elvira Marín Irigaray, Director of Fundación Aland

Challenges

  • Water scarcity
  • Extreme climate conditions
  • Desertification, leading to soil erosion, and the degradation of fertile land and forests
  • De-population – young people leaving due to economic uncertainty and cultural factors

Opportunities

  • Restore 25,000 ha of natural corridors to connect natural parks
  • Grow from 3 to 9 regenerative business cases by 2050
  • Support the transition of 600 existing businesses
  • Carbon project (to benefit local community) in pre-feasibility phase
  • Projects to enable further restoration, such as a seed bank, a regenerative learning alliance, a machine bank, and others.

Impact for this landscape

280

farmers

actively implementing regenerative practices

> 490

members

of the AlVelAl network

10,800

hectares

under improved land management

3

business cases

created and operational

What has happened in the different zones

  • Natural Zone
  • Combined Zone
  • Economic Zone

Regenerating a landscape’s ecological foundation by restoring and protecting native vegetation, trees, and biodiversity.

Activities
Restoring natural zones such as La Muela; facilitating restoration of natural zones on farms to implement measures to retain water, soil and to promote biodiversity, including the development of biodiversity corridors; engagement and mobilisation of farmers, community members and other stakeholders; research & development, monitoring, evaluation, and learning.

Restoring the topsoil and biodiversity, and delivering sustainable economic returns through regenerative agriculture, agroforestry and rotational grazing.

Activities
Facilitating restoration of natural zones on farms to implement measures to retain water, soil and to promote biodiversity; facilitating transition to regenerative agriculture (through workshops, pilots) to retain water and soil and to promote biodiversity; engagement and mobilisation of farmers, community members and other stakeholders; research & development; monitoring, evaluation and learning.

To deliver sustainable economic productivity with dedicated areas for value-adding activities like processing. This zone is typically concentrated in urban areas.

Activities
Processing and marketing of regenerative products from the territory, while supporting an ecosystem of regenerative businesses and entrepreneurs; engagement and mobilisation of farmers, community members and other stakeholders; research & development; monitoring, evaluation and learning.

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