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Animal husbandry and welfare
Climate and climate change
For five years, 1000 Portuguese farmers sowed biodiverse seed mixtures, rich in legumes, across 50 000 hectares. This was part of the Terraprima project which tackled multiple challenges including climate change, biodiversity and soil degradation. This nature-based technique offers a potential sustainable intensification solution, simultaneously increasing production and environmental services. The sowing of these biodiverse seed mixtures resulted in a higher animal production and higher protein content of the animal feed. It also increased carbon sequestration through organic matter stored in the soil, improved soil fertility, increased water retention capacity of the soils and reduced the risk of erosion. What is more, the pastures helped maintain the diversity of plant species, birds and insects.
The Terraprima project, funded by the Portuguese Carbon Fund, was implemented between 2009 and 2014 in the Southern Portugal ‘Montado’. In this region, agro-forest ecosystems had been degraded by decades of harmful agricultural practices. Before the project, the area had less than 1% soil organic matter and a high susceptibility to soil erosion and desertification. By sowing the biodiverse pastures, the project aimed to turn this around. The farmers involved were provided with a clear implementation plan including technical support, field visits, e-mail and phone contact. Claudia Marques dos Santos, one of the many participating farmers emphasises: “No one knows the difficulties better than the farmer and can guide the search for solutions.”
The Terraprima seed mixtures contain a high variety of improved and selected local plant species and varieties – up to twenty – which allows for a greater adaptability of the pasture to each specific area and type of soil and climate variability. Results show that the high proportion of legumes in the mixtures provides a renewable source of nitrogen for the food system and increases the productivity of the pastures. The higher protein content also makes the pastures more attractive to animals. At the same time, grazing avoids shrub invasion, thus reducing fire risk and the need for mechanical shrub removal. In fact Terraprima believes that, adapted implementation of sown biodiverse pastures in the whole Mediterranean region could provide many solutions to the biodiversity challenges Europe is facing. By reducing nitrogen leaching by not using nitrogen fertilisers, and phosphorus run-off due to reduced soil erosion, sown diverse pastures help to protect and restore clean water and ensure its long-term, sustainable use.
Other farmers have been experimenting with sown and natural biodiverse pastures. For example Manuel Die, livestock farmer with more than 18 years experience, stresses the importance of proper grazing management to maintain pasture biodiversity and production: “When the pastures are sown, it is necessary to manage them with high density, non-selective grazing and let the land rest in spring in order to establish a seed bank. In the dry season the dry matter has to be removed by grazing.”
Claudia concludes: “We see ourselves not only as farmers but also as providers of environmental services. The main environmental advantages of sown biodiverse pastures are according to us: landscape improvement, nitrogen fixation, carbon sequestration, soil conservation and food for livestock.”
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