Monte da Vida

Location: South-West Alentejo, Portugal

Project area: 34 hectares

Date Project Started: 2013

Project leaders: Clare Finlator / Servan Keondjian

Introduction:  Monte da Vida is a home to the core Earthlife team. The project is restoring Meditteranean Oak forest, and aims to create a thriving rural regenerative economy, as an alternative to forest monocultures and land-use practises that are contributing to desertification in the region.

Website: www.montedavida.com

 

Pero


Progress so far

  • Infrastructure:
    • Installation of off-grid power and water systems and other basic infrastructure.
    • Creating terraces, dry stone walls, pathways.
  • Forest Biodiversity:
    • Biodiversity study of the land carried out by our collaborators
      Eco-Interventions.
    • Observation of the land, getting to know it in order to work with nature.
    • Clearing and mulching areas of thick brambles, and planting hundreds of native trees (with Eco-Interventions).
    • Started harvesting Eucalyptus for construction material and firewood, with view to transitioning from monoculture into zoned mixed forest areas for sustainable harvesting of wood, and other forest products.
    • Purchase of wood-chipper for turning tree prunings into mulch.
  • Food forest:
    • Planting of fruit trees and culinary/medicinal plants around living areas, and in lower valley
  • Olive oil:
    • Annual olive harvest for olive oil (own consumption and gifting).
  • Herbal products:
    • Exploration and trials underway of herbal products and teas.
  • Building:
    • Design and first prototype underway of the Pentome – an eco-modular home using local materials.
    • Completed first eco-building in stone, wood, mud and straw, with a local team.
  • Local community:
    • Building relationships with neighbours, local village and others in the area.
    • Providing occasional employment and participating in exchange economy.
    • Participation in local and regional events.

 

Five Year Goals

  • Water:
    • Create a water collection and cycling system to make the best use of rainfall and greywater, for irrigation and fire prevention. This will include making two lakes with clay dams.
  • Forest biodiversity:
    • Cut most of eucalyptus plantation, leaving some trees for construction and firewood, and replant with mixed native tree species.
    • Gradually clear more areas of the land for planting further native trees and shrubs.
  • Cork:
    • Sustainable cork harvest. (Summers of 2016, 2018, 2020)
  • Herbal products:
    • Produce a small range of medicinal teas,  hydrolats and  essential oils.
  • Olive oil:
    • Increase olive harvest (clear and recover overgrown and abandoned trees).
    • Explore markets for high quality olive oil in UK and Holland.
  • Building:
    • Launch of the Pentome eco-building as an exciting solution for rural off-grid living.
    • Rebuild old ruin on the land as community building, with multi-use space for meetings, gatherings, indoor Tai Chi practice space etc. Include large kitchen, cold store, and area for processing produce.
  • Regenerative Economy:
    • Provide an example of how rural living can offer an attractive and sustainable alternative to life in cities, helping to combat de-population of rural areas, and ignite a regenerative and thriving rural community and economy.
  • Local community:
    • Strengthen local ties, and explore collaborations with key partners in the area.

Beneficiaries / Impacts

  • Four people are currently involved directly with running the project. Over the next years we anticipate this will increase to 8-10 people.
  • Employment for local forest workers and unemployed young men. In the future our small businesses will offer more opportunities for local people.
  • Providing an example of successful regenerative land-use to neighbours and others in the region.
  • Conservation of water and humidity in the soil by maintaining soil vegetative cover and mulching.
  • Offering a haven for wildlife such as wild boar, genet, mongoose, as well as birds and insects.
  • Providing a source of native tree and shrub seeds, contributing to conservation of biodiversity in the region.
  • Offering free classes in Qigong and Martial Arts for local people.

 

Challenges

  • Water – The annual rainfall is diminishing, due to climate change and land-use patterns. Streams that once ran all year are now dry. As wells begin to dry up, more people are resorting to boreholes for water supply and using up the groundwater.
  • Fire – There are many eucalyptus plantations in the area that increase the risk of fire in the dry and hot summers
  • Monocultures – Eucalyptus plantations for paper pulp are big business in the region, leading to increase fire risk, acidification of soils, and drier land. In the harvesting process large machines plough up steep hillsides destroying soil life, and leaving soils to be baked in the sun, or washed away by rains.
  • Local customs – It is common for landowners to use glyphosate on weeds and brambles. It is also usual to plough slopes in between the trees, increasing soil loss and aridity. As in many places, people are slow to acknowledge the need for change of habits and adaptation in response to risk of desertification.
  • Subsidies – Government subsidies encourage monocultures of eucalyptus, pine and cork oak, and government forest engineers usually promote aggressive land clearing. It is much harder to get support for mixed forests that conserve biodiversity.
  • Local market – There is little in the way of a local market for produce, due to  low population density, and low wealth.

 

Community

Monte da Vida is a community of social entrepreneurs and eco-pioneers. Our focus is living in balance, and discovering what our regenerative function is, as part of nature. We use meditation and Taoist energy practices to support ourselves in this.

 

Resources

Land Regeneration Report November 2015