Bringing together pioneers of Conservation Agriculture and organic farming in Gallecs, Catalonia, Spain

In February 2023, farmers from Catalonia joined for a workshop with the ConServeTerra team. The aim of the workshop was to build a “co-constructed mental model” of conservation agriculture (CA) in the Catalan context. This would help to understand the motivations, benefits and drawbacks of CA practices in the region, and how pioneer farmers overcome problems with implementation.

The farmers were welcomed with coffee and locally made baked goods using flour from wheat and rye that is grown and milled in the immediate rural area of Gallecs. An interesting and lively discussion led to many insights for the team. It was also a valuable opportunity for the farmers themselves to exchange and hear others’ experiences of shifting from conventional systems to CA and organic systems, and tackling challenges such as weed control, pest wildlife and drought.

There was general consensus among all participants that for the local context, CA is about more than just no-till and chemical weed control, but should be a holistic approach that includes crop rotation, crop diversification, organic fertilisation, leaving residues and so on. While some participants practiced conventional agriculture with CA, others had a more ecological approach. Some organic farmers also attempted to reduce or eliminate tillage. These farmers were able to share innovative suggestions for managing weeds without depending on herbicides, by improving plant knowledge and increasing rotations using different crop varieties. These insights will be crucial in the Gallecs region, that is undergoing transition towards increased organic production, and to ensure sustainable soil and water management in the future.

The discussion also raised some further questions. Given that some farmers see CA as more for cost-saving, and that CA in other countries is often tailored for large-scale, highly intensive farms dependent on external inputs, how we can translate the benefits of CA into easy and cheap technologies adapted to small scale farms?

A range of internal and external factors, including personal circumstances, available information and state support for finance and training all create the conditions for farmers to change their practices – these pioneers demonstrate how to take these steps. The next step for the project will be to compare the outcomes of the workshop with those from Morocco and Tunisia, and understand the different ways in which pioneer farmers are implementing CA across the Mediterranean.

For more information, please contact Emmeline Topp

Constructing mental models of conservation agriculture with participating farmers and ConServeTerra researchers in Gallecs, Catalonia, Spain, February 2023. Photos: Gemma Safont