The challenge:

Why we are restoring degraded landscapes in the Altiplano of Spain

By: John D. Liu

As part of a Commonland Foundation delegation I visited Spain in May to learn of the activities of the AlVeLal Cooperative to restore ecological function to a vast area of the Andalusia Altiplano in Granada and Murcia. This is part of a large band of the northern Mediterranean which has suffered desertification from causes including improper grazing methods and extractive monoculture methods of agriculture. In Granada I visited the farm of Alfonso Chico de Guzman who has already taken Geoff Lawton’s PDC Course, has designed a “Sepp Holzer” style water retention landscape, has planted Permaculture orchards and is experimenting with swales. Alfonso has offered us a 5-hectare area on his property to locate a restoration camp for a 5-year period. Our job there is simply to restore hydrological and ecological functioning.
More information about AlVeLal Cooperative
The AlVeLal Cooperative is working in the same region using biodiverse methods to restore ecological function to former monoculture almond orchards, incorporating aromatic plants which will provide needed vegetation and attract pollinators, and bringing in a native species of lambs to build soil and protect against fire by grazing vegetation. This video from AlVeLal also illustrates how the local economy can benefit as well:

Camping as a practical solution:

Closely following on the damage to ecosystems, there has also been a migration of people to urban areas because of a lack of productive work. On Alfonso’s farm I saw that his efforts in restoration were hindered by a lack of people in the region who could help. Meanwhile young people are asking me daily where they can train in restoration skills. When I put these two needs together it became clear that camping would be a cost-effective way to do restoration and also to train large numbers of people in the precise skills necessary.

Permaculture training in restoration camps:

This past summer I was invited to participate in a Permaculture Training Course organized by the World Permaculture Association (WPA) and led by the Permaculture Research Institute (PRI) and in this course it was further apparent that large numbers of students could benefit from training with hands on components in Ecosystem Restoration Camps. So there will be a program of permaculture training incorporated into our Camps, in the spirit of spreading knowledge for a growing movement. The presence of AlVeLal and Alfonso’s farm near our first camp help support that learning environment as well.

Building an Ecosystem Restoration Cooperative:

To support the camps project we join together as a worldwide cooperative. The restoration work that is needed for the whole of society to mitigate and adapt to climate change is also work that can make individuals, families, communities and everyone’s lives as sustainable and resilient as possible. While there needs to be a Foundation to give us legal status, members of the cooperative have been working as volunteers and this will continue as much as possible. When it is necessary to have paid staff we will seek to employ people in the region of the camps to build a connection with the local economy and culture.

About the Camps

The first camp is being set up in the southern Spanish Altiplano. We have had discussions with Alfonso and he has agreed that he would like to have the camp. The discussion within the cooperative members is that we create a showcase at the first camp to show what can be done this way. The Permaculture Research Institute (PRI) and the World Permaculture Association (WPA) have agreed to hold continuous training in the camp. Regeneration International (RI) has agreed to broadly publicize and support the Cooperative and the Camps worldwide. There are requests for camps in many parts of the world already and there will be many more. Some members have begun to collect these requests. People from more than 40 countries have joined the Cooperative as founding members including many of the top Permaculture designers and trainers in the world. Rhamis Kent, Ben Falk, Jillian Hovey, Daniel Halsey, Albert Bates, Paul Cohen, May East, Mark Shepard, and many others. We have also been joined by some of the leaders of Commonland which may open up some additional funding for the Spanish Camp.