Portugal on the way to desertification?

Located at the West Cost and, also, in the south-western Europe, Portugal has a 1,793 km border to the west with the North Atlantic Ocean and a 1,214 km border with Spain to the north and east. Portugal is home to over 10.7 million people, a lot of them coming from Brazil, Ukraine and several Portuguese speaking countries in Africa. The capital of Portugal is Lisbon (Lisboa). Portugal is a parliamentary democratic republic with a unicameral parliamentary system. It became a republic after a revolution which deposed the monarchy in 1910 in a very unusual way as the King was shot dead and the new regime was never object of a referendum... Portugal is a founding member of NATO and entered the European Union (EU), in 1986. In January 2011, Portugal assumed a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for the 2011-12 term. Portugal has become a diversified and increasingly service-based economy since joining the EU (services now account for approximately 75% of GDP). The country qualified for the European Monetary Union (EMU) in 1998 and began circulating the Euro in 2002, along with 11 other EU member economies. Economic growth has been weak since 2008. Portugal has been increasingly overshadowed by lower-cost producers in Central Europe and Asia as a target for foreign direct investment. A significant trade deficit (US$20 billion in 2011-12) and long-overdue infrastructure upgrades have contributed to slow growth. Although it has received structural funding from the EU , modernisation of Portugal’s industry has been slow. Public finances have also become a significant concern, like in other European countries. In the Spring 2011, former Prime Minister Socrates secured an EU-IMF bailout package valued at around €80 billion to address international concerns about Portugal’s national debt. In return for the loan, which covers the period 2011-14, Portugal is expected to reduce its deficit by a substantial amount. By 2011– through a combination of spending cuts, tax increases and other reforms – the deficit had been cut to 4.4% of GDP (from 9.9 the previous year), although this is expected to rise again in 2012-13. In the meantime the Portuguese economy has been in continuous recession since 2010. The economy shrank by around 3.2% in 2012 and a similar amount in 2013, returning to weak growth levels in 2015 at the earliest. Unemployment is now around 17.7%, compared to 8% in 2007. Portugal has a very heterogeneous landscape. the North half of the country is mainly covered by forests and shrubs, while the in South the abundance of agricultural rainfed crops is evident. Other evidence the user can get from the land cover map is the concentration of artificial areas near the coastline (West and South boundaries). The statistical analysis of the land cover data identifies that the country is mainly covered by rainfed agriculture (24%), forests (18%), shrubland (27%) and sparsely vegetated areas (27%). In the South-Eastern part of Portugal, Alentejo, since the beginning of the wheat campaign in 1929, intense soil mobilizations, extensive agriculture mechanization and shortage of land resting periods destroyed the soil’ superficial layer; cumulatively, intense erosion processes resulted on soil fertility loss. Small farmers got bankrupt and massively migrated to big cities. The agronomic reform derived from the 25th April 1974 revolution promoted the use of marginal areas with low agronomic value, aggravating soil erosion processes, soil fertility loss, as well as vegetation degradation and biodiversity loss. Livestock (cows, sheep, goats and pigs) is produced in pastures beneath Montado, in drought years their excessive number leads to soil denudation and consequent erosion. The high charcoal value during the wheat campaign and 2nd world war also contributed to cork and holm oaks from Montado cutting and subsequent inadequate cereal culture in these deforested areas. Large scale fires combined with drought also contribute to this degradation of the natural ecosystems and to a misuse of natural vital resources, like water and soil. The European agronomic policies (PAC) were inadequate to local realities and needs (for example: Pinus pinea subsided plantation in southeast Alentejo region). European subsides were commonly the most important factor in the decision making process of land use by farmers (as an example: wheat continues to be cultivated even when it’s commercial value is not compensating; live-stock number is artificially maintained high due to subsides based on number of animals/area). There is no generalised degradation at the country level, but still almost one third of land is somewhat degraded and desertification hot spots should be found in that domain. Productive land is dominant in the better condition classes and is also the overall most abundant state. This is likely to reflect agricultural uses with variable degrees of intensification and, along with mature land, account for more than half of the territory. Reference performance land shows a comparatively low share. In a European country, this condition conveys the marginal ‘land bank’ from which land is retrieved to yield more profitable systems, and to which land is abandoned when those systems are no longer in use. The relatively small size of this bank suggests an imbalance between land under some use and buffer land. This is perhaps profitable on the short term, but that is potentially unstable on the long term. The Norte region contains most of deteriorated land. Alentejo is associated with both degraded and productive land. The future is unknown but it might not be the one we would like to have.

2 thoughts on “Portugal on the way to desertification?

  1. Silvestre Paulo Langa

    Very in deed, degradation is a matter that is happening very in front of our eyes. A lot of our lands in different countries are used intensively to respond a present needs. The future is unknown and we can see that there will be big challenges to face regarding our resources.

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