The municipality of Montoro is located in the Province of Cordoba in southern Spain (see Figure 1), between 4º33’; 4º9’ W and 38º16`; 37º57` N and has a variety of agricultural ecosystems (pasture, olive groves and annual crops) and forest/shrub natural vegetation near the agricultural areas. Elevations range from 140 m to 790 m a.s.l. In the area 58,103 ha (34.2%) are olive groves. The remaining area is arable land (8.1%), forest (17.5%), scrubland (28.7%), dehesa and other pastures (8.7%), water reservoirs (1.1%), urban area and infrastructure (0.8%) and other land uses (1.0%). The Natural Park of Sierra Cardeña and Montoro occupy 26% of the municipality.
The central and northern parts of Montoro are mostly highlands with steep slopes that make agriculture difficult and expensive. For this reason, most agricultural production in this region is based on extensive olive groves and pasture. The study area adjoins the lynx core population located in the Sierra Cardeña and Montoro.
The area of olive groves is the unit that is most affected by the current and future reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Due to the current price level (less than 2.00 €/kg olive oil) more than half of the olive groves are not profitable. With the aimed reduction of the subsidies by two thirds the percentage of olive groves with risk of abandonment increases up to 80%. This poses a serious risk on the development of the municipality not only from the economic and social point of view (first and second order impact) but also environmentally due to the abandonment of these plantations, which in turn would increase first the risk of wildfire and later of soil erosion. The payment for public goods provided by the new CAP might offset this negative scenario, focusing on the preservation of biodiversity, the carbon sequestration and the prevention of soil erosion. It would be necessary to explore the potential of the organic olive production and to analyze the organizational and distribution limitations of the olive oil with higher added value.
The CAP subsidies have kept most of the olive groves in mountain areas under production. This allows providing employment in some rural municipalities where there are no other agricultural activities. The cross-compliance in more stepped areas results in a reduction of the potential soil erosion of these agricultural systems; thus, the use of grass cover in these olive plantations contributes to the preservation of biodiversity and has a positive impact on the visual quality of these areas.
Dehesa and natural park
The strengthening of the CAP greening through the second pillar might have a positive impact on the more extensive agricultural systems (Dehesa and olive groves of the park) and the Natural Park due to their provision of public goods (mainly carbon sequestration and preservation of the biodiversity). The LEADER programme through Articles 29 (environment and climate), 30 (organic production), 31 (Natura 2000 network and water directive), 32 and 33 (natural areas) and 35 (forestry) will support the development strategies of these areas.
In addition to the first pillar subsidies for the farms in the Dehesa and the park, there are specific second pillar subsidies: (a) afforestation of agricultural lands; (b) farmers’ early retirement; (c) compensatory payment and (d) agri-environment scheme. More than 90% of farmers in these areas with natural limitations receive CAP subsidies. The farmers’ overall opinion on these subsidies is positive because they maintain the agricultural activity. There are problems mostly related to the administrative implementation of the policy. The 2014-2020 CAP represents an opportunity for these areas where the provision of non-market goods is relevant for the society, mainly the preservation of biodiversity and the carbon sequestration.
Specialist cereals, oilseed and vegetables
Although the impact of the unit on the local economy is limited, the new orientation of the CAP would benefit these producers because their current level of subsidies is lower than those proposed in the reform. The current CAP subsidies allow continuing cereals and oilseed farms in production. Most medium-small farms have a limited potential of production increase as they are rainfed. For these crops the post-2013 direct payment proposed would result in a slightly increment of profitability for these farmers.
In the case of olive groves, the landscape management highly determines the environmental impact of the olive oil production depending on the use of grass cover in steep lands. Soil erosion is one of the main environmental problems of Southern Spain; being the olive groves the main agricultural use in mountain areas their management is crucial to prevent this problem. The reduction of the olive oil prices has provoked that most olive groves in mountain areas are at risk of abandonment, since this is the main source of employment, direct and indirect, in many municipalities there is also a risk of depopulation of these rural areas.
The Dehesa represents a sustainable agricultural system combining the preservation of the environment with extensive agricultural production. The downstream effect has a potential through the agroindustry (meat and cheese) and rural tourism. The management of this ecosystem can prevent the decay of the trees (Quercus ilex) due to the fungus Pytophthora.
The Natural park includes olive groves with lower yields in steep lands with management restrictions due to the Park environmental regulation. The main flow of services comes from the preservation of the habitat of one umbrella species, the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus). The Iberian lynx is included in the Annex of Habitat Directive 92/43/EEC as a priority species. Currently the Iberian lynx is the most seriously endangered species of all the felids, is recognized as critically endangered by the World Conservation Union (IUCN, 2002), and as the most threatened carnivorous species in Europe. The interaction between the farmers’ interests, their management possibilities, and the environmentalists plays a key role in the development of this area.
The fourth area (cereals and oilseed cropping), represent a typical Mediterranean rainfed agricultural system with low agrochemical inputs and low labour demand. The impact of the management of this unit is relatively low on the rural economy.
Olive groves are the main agricultural land use in the study area (see Figure 2). The average farm size is 5-10 ha, thus most farmers have off farm source of income, mainly from tourism and local industry. Farmers are organized in cooperatives to produce and sell the olive oil. The natural park has a great potential from tourism since is the habitat of the Iberian lynx. There are olive groves within the park, what produce a number of production limitations to the farmers and do not receive any compensation from Society for their environmental function. Due to the lack of profitability of most of the olive groves, there is a risk of land abandonment. There are some rural development strategies promoted by the regional and local authorities, including the valorisation of the agricultural landscape as a source of income from tourism and intensification of the production of local products, mainly from the Dehesa (cheese and processed meat from Iberian pigs).
The following table summarizes the flow of services from the landscape elements and their effects on beneficiaries. According to the stakeholders, the cultural & amenity function is relevant to promote the rural competitiveness of olive groves in the study area.
The following figure shows the main beneficiaries of the landscape functions in the municipality of Montoro. The four main landscape elements of the municipality produce benefits to the Society: olive groves mainly providing olive oil, as carbon storage and preventing soil erosion (those with crop cover between trees); the Dehesa raw materials (cork) and livestock (pigs, sheeps and cattle); the natural park mainly from its regulating and habitat supporting functions (the habitat of the Iberian lynx); and the arable crops providing cereals and sunflower oil.
The Montoro municipality represents an interesting example of interaction of extensive agricultural systems (olive groves, arable crops and Dehesa) and environment (Natural Park). Since their agricultural productivity is low, the search of complementary economic activities, mainly rural and environmental tourism, has been intensified in recent years. Thus, the local stakeholders recommended the restoration of olive groves pathways as a mean of increase the rural competitiveness of the area.
References & Further Reading
Rodríguez-Entrena, M., Arriaza, M., Gómez-Limón, J.A. (2014). Determining economic and social factors in the adoption of cover crops under mower control in olive groves. Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. 38(1): 69-91.
Nekhay, O., Arriaza, M. and Boerboom, L. (2009). Evaluation of erosion risk using Analytic Network Process and GIS: a case study from Spanish mountain olive plantations. Journal of Environmental Management 90(10): 3091-3104.
Manuel Arriaza, Macario Rodríguez-Entrena, Sergio Colombo
Institute of Agricultural Research and Training (IFAPA)
Centro Alameda del Obispo, Apartado 3092
14080 Córdoba, Spain