ForestPaths partner assesses the impact of intensive agriculture in Alentejo in Publico opinion piece

6 June 2024

ForestPaths partner, Dr Diana Feliciano was featured in Publico – a popular Portuguese daily newspaper – assessing the ineffectiveness of intensive agriculture in Alentejo and highlighting the unfulfilled promises of the Alqueva dam project and its impact on local farmers and development.

In her article, Diana analyses the ongoing inefficacy of intensive agriculture in Alentejo, focusing particularly on the Alqueva dam project. She recalls how, during her university studies, she sparked a debate on the pros and cons of the dam in a Hydrology class. Around that time, she visited Beja for the first time at the invitation of her best friend from college. Nearly a decade later, Diana returned to the region with a group of around 30 Geography students from a Scottish university. Their mission was to gather local opinions on the effectiveness of various rural development mechanisms in the area, with the Alqueva dam being a central focus.

During her visit, Diana observed a stark contrast in perspectives. Tourism agents were still hopeful for the future, anticipating the construction of hotels, restaurants, and golf courses that would bring prosperity and jobs to the region. However, she also encountered disheartened farmers who had yet to see the promised inclusion of their lands in the Alqueva irrigation perimeter. These farmers expressed frustration over the unfulfilled promises and the lack of tangible benefits from the project.

Upon Diana's return to Beja after ten more years, she noted significant changes: grey skies, a strange smell, and a new beach amid vast super-intensive olive plantations. Initially, the Alqueva dam seemed to promise prosperity with abundant water for agriculture, a tourist-attracting beach and plentiful jobs. These changes were meant to secure food supply and make olive oil and nutritious produce affordable. However, despite these developments, intensive agriculture has not met expectations, leaving the community still struggling and dissatisfied. Diana's reflections highlight the gap between the project's ambitious goals and the challenging reality for local farmers.

This article addresses the risks of unsustainable land use in Portugal, a country severely impacted by climate change through droughts and fires. It explores the environmental, economic and social consequences of management practices that are not climate-adapted, contribute to GHG emissions and harm biodiversity. While the focus is on agriculture, similar issues apply to forests, where poor management can also lead to negative practices that contribute to the release of carbon stored in forest soils and inability to sustain biodiversity. 

In addition to her news article in Publico, which you can read here in Portuguese, Diana was also the winner of The Teesside University Star Awards in the category of Research Excellence, which celebrates the excellence and service demonstrated by staff throughout the year. 

Title of Dr Diana Feliciano’s opinion piece in Portuguese daily newspaper Publico (“Intensive agriculture in Alentejo continues to produce poor results”)