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‘Sustainability’ ignored by agriculture and forestry sectors

Published on 18/12/2018

The European Court of Auditors has underlined the very real danger of continuing to invest in intensive agriculture and the unsustainable practices that often are involved.

In a special report to the European Parliament, the Court of Auditors highlights the harmful effects of intensive agriculture and the government’s reliance on policies that are out of date and out of place, such as the development of irrigation systems in a country where water is becoming increasingly scarce.

Portugal was one of eight EU member countries visited by the auditors who were tasked with assessing the EU’s response to increasing land degradation and desertification.

The conclusion was stark, “Although desertification and land degradation represent growing threats, the measures taken to combat desertification lack coherence and there is no harmonised vision.”

In the case of Portugal, the auditors criticised the lack of sustainability of projects. For example, it cites a case in which the authorities decided, without evaluating possible alternatives, that rice cultivation was the only solution in an area with high salinity – but with little water.

The Court noted also that the National Programme of Action to Combat Desertification, that supposedly was updated in 2014, has not even been published and that national projects that produce positive results are not replicated nor are they integrated into a strategic vision to combat this serious threat.

This report reinforces what the Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds (SPEA) and other environmental organisations have been saying for years, intensive and inappropriate agriculture is a serious threat to our future with implications at all levels: from the disappearance of species and habitats to loss of soil, lack of water and dangers posed to public health.

“We must seek real solutions to prevent a large part of our country from becoming a desert – solutions that truly are responsible and sustainable, not for insisting on short-term and misallocated measures like irrigation and intensive agriculture,” says SPEA’s Joaquim Teodósio.

The view of the bird and environmental organisation is that Portugal has to halt intensive forestry and agricultural monocultures, “It must abandon intensive irrigation, which generates millions of dollars of income for investors in the early years, but does not bring jobs or quality of life and generates destruction and an environmental liability that will be paid by future generations,” states Teodósio.

Portugal must plant native forests, diversify its agriculture, increase plant varieties, use native cattle breeds and value the biodiversity and unique character of its landscape.

“Only in this way will it be possible to generate employment and income in the rural world in the years to come,” stated SPEA, not a little disappointed at the European Court of Auditors’ findings.