Bottom up Adaptation Strategies for a Sustainable Europe

Adaptation to Drought in Alentejo, Portugal

The case study was conducted in Alentejo, a southern region in Portugal that is characterized by a semi-arid Mediterranean climate. Alentejo is particularly vulnerable to drought and desertification and the area has a low population density which constitutes an additional barrier to economic development. While some users have benefited from irrigation infrastructure and services, other regions depend on rain for their agriculture and agroforestry sectors. Both user-groups (irrigated and non-irrigated) face different challenges in relation to climate change adaptation. The purpose of the case study was to take a bottom up approach and understand the autonomous adaptation taking place by farmers and communities in the region while at the same time evaluate these already implemented adaptation measures with different methods such as cost benefit analysis, INVEST modelling, systematization of experiences, literature review and participatory multi criteria analysis on barriers and opportunities.

The Climate Challenge:

The region is characterized by a semi-arid Mediterranean climate and is classified as having high vulnerability to climate change and high risk of desertification due to its aridity index, low quality of soils, reduced precipitation and increasing temperatures. The majority of the region is not irrigated and its agriculture is based on rainfed winter cereal crops, pastures and a silvo-pastoral landscape with cork oak and holm oak as primary trees. Climate challenges in these regions affect the agriculture, agroforestry, and forestry sectors, which suffer from decreased precipitation, increased drought periods and increased temperatures. Other significant areas of the region (thousands of hectares) have irrigation infrastructures, channels and big dams with costs subsidized by CAP funds but they too face adaptation challenges related to heat waves, temperature increase, increase of price of water for irrigation, decrease in water quality, increased dependence on irrigation and eventual water scarcity due to transboundary water conflicts.

The Adaptation Response:

The case study collected over thirty diverse adaptation measures currently being used by different farmers and organizations in the region. Innovative measures include creating microclimates (with lakes, windbreaks, etc) or locating crops in specific microclimates in the farm (shade of hills, etc). Many adaptation responses consisted in implementing good practices to improve general sustainability farm resilience. Some examples include conservation tilling (no tilling, zone tilling, keyline, countour, etc.), diversification (of crops, species, varieties, genes, creating agro-silvo-pastoral landscapes, etc), improving soil quality (increasing organic matter, mulching, rotating livestock, introducing sewage sludge on soil, etc.). Other measures focus on harvesting rainwater and using water more efficiently such as off-stream dams, water retention landscapes, precision drip irrigation with organic fertilizer, reusing grey water, using renewable energy for water pumping to reduce the costs of irrigation. Finally, several measures focused on raising the adaptive capacity namely with awareness raising about sustainability and climate change, training courses in permaculture, and the development of community plans for an eco village.

The People and Institutions Involved

Twenty-one farms and projects were interviewed in this case study and contributed information to its findings. For the farmers, the motivation for participation was mainly due to their interest in improving yields from their farm and thus their income. Participation also came from local NGOs and community organizations interested in implementing sustainable practices. In order to gather these perspectives from different stakeholders, the case study organized several participatory events starting with a “Participatory State of the Art workshop on Adaptation of Forest and Agriculture in the Alentejo” with the research community, national and regional stakeholders working on related fields.

The Outcome of Action

The range of adaptation responses varied greatly with the selection of thirty recognized measures and projects each with certain levels of success and/or limiting factors. A participatory multi-criteria analysis was conducted to understand these factors on 15 adaptation measures considered most important for stakeholders. For a detailed evaluation, please see the case study living document.


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Full Report

The full report of this case study can be read here.


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