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Almond production that saves the bees?

Almonds are the most demanded and sold nut in the world. Its uses range from raw consumption, to the preparation of countless food recipes, to the manufacture of cosmetic products. 

It is a very rustic crop, adapted to warm areas and is very tolerant to drought. These characteristics make the almond tree a perfect species for organic rainfed cultivation, even in arid climates. However, the reality of production worldwide is very different. 

California, the queen of industrial almond cultivation

Between 80% and 90% of the world’s almond production comes from California. The cultivation area is around 450,000 hectares, producing around 1.3 billion kilos of almonds per year. The other countries where almonds are produced are Spain, Iran, Turkey and Australia – in that order.

Most Californian almond crops are produced in an intensive industrial scheme, i.e. they are planted in large monocultures, using large amounts of water for irrigation, as well as millions of litres of fertilisers and pesticides. This gigantic production system is what makes almonds one of the most water-intensive crops in the world, using an average of 16,000 litres of water per kilo of almonds, according to studies carried out by GRACE Communications Foundation. 

It is a production system that brings major problems with it, which are further aggravated by the climate crisis. From the draining and pollution of aquifers, to the destruction of hundreds of species of animals and plants. Industrial almond production is causing the great loss of hundreds of thousands of bees, which are used for the pollination of the almond trees and which die soon after coming into contact with the chemicals used.

But it is in the example of the world’s second largest producer Spain that we find a very different scenario to the Californian one, since a large part of the crops are organic (free of chemical fertilisers and pesticides) and rainfed (without irrigation). 

Spain, the perfect setting for eco-regenerative almonds

The largest area of almond cultivation in Spain, and at the same time in Europe, is located in the Southeastern Steppe Highlands, in what we call AlVelAl territory. Ninety-five percent of the crops use no water other than that which falls from the sky, which is usually very little, and the other 5% work with back-up irrigation, which corresponds to about two irrigations per year in the dry seasons. 

It was the existence of this extension of almond trees that made this area the perfect place to develop an ecosystem restoration plan, promoted by the Commonland Foundation and the AlVelAl Association.

The plan is led by regenerative agriculture and its producers, who seek to transform almond monocultures into productive biodiverse ecosystems, creating what are called “almendrehesas”. This system combines almond trees with wild species such as aromatic herbs and introduces the Segureño lamb, a native species perfectly adapted to the ecosystem, which manages the vegetation cover, thus reducing tillage and fertilising the soil. 

These regenerative farms are creating a mosaic ecosystem with ecological corridors that serve as a natural barrier against desertification in southeastern Spain, setting up a complete landscape restoration plan. 

Another species that is integrated into this agroforestry system are bees. Both honey bees and other wild pollinators, which either indirectly – attracted by the aromatic herbs and flowers of the canopies – or directly – by installing hives between the lines of trees – benefit pollination and live happily with an abundance of food. This is a totally different scenario from that of bees in California, which have been hard hit and are at risk from industrial production. 

Rethinking production and consumption systems

Now that we are in the midst of a major ecological crisis where ecosystems are rapidly collapsing as a result of human action, it is time to rethink our production and consumption systems. 

We must rethink whether we want to go for more monocultures or start creating productive ecosystems through regenerative agriculture, combining maintenance and natural regeneration with production. 

In terms of environmental impact there is no comparison. While one model has a negative impact on water reserves and quality, biodiversity and soil, the regenerative model not only cares for and maintains the ecosystem, but can even regenerate it completely, imitating its logic and processes. 

In the regenerative model, the water footprint is zero or, in the case of support irrigation, much smaller than in intensive models. Regenerative agriculture is also based on the capture of CO2 and water in the soil, creating a positive impact on emissions and water resources. 

It is in quantity and productivity that the intensive model stands out from the eco-regenerative one, but at what price? Is this rate of production realistic in relation to the available natural resources? 

Eat and regenerate: helping to restore an ecosystem through food production

All of us have the ability to regenerate nature, society and economy by supporting the regenerative model, while consuming quality food and supporting producers who are conscious and committed to their land. 

We can support the producers of AlVelAl Foods to expand the regenerative model and regenerate the southeast of Spain and thus help to multiply the almond trees in the AlVelAl territory. 

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