Aljezur Council has taken a harsh stance against what it calls the “unbridled intensive agriculture” that has taken over much of Portugal’s once “beautifully-untouched” southwest coast.
A Covid-19 outbreak among agricultural workers in the neighbouring borough of Odemira has exposed the not-so-secret practices of greenhouses along the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina (PNSACV), which often rely on immigrants who work for minimal wages and live in miserable conditions.
But according to Aljezur Council, this is an issue that local authorities have been warning the government about for years.
“In Portugal, it has become a habit for ‘tragedy’ to happen before people’s consciences are ‘awakened’,” the council said in a statement to the press.
Such is the case with what has happened in Odemira, adds the council.
As it points out, the issues highlighted by the pandemic have been known to the public for some time, and the councils of Aljezur and Odemira have tried, “individually and together”, to warn the government about the dangers involved.
“Yes, for a long time we have said (…) that an uncontrolled, unregulated, unmonitored and intensive agriculture would create several social problems such as (poor) working conditions, overcrowded houses, insalubrity, cheap labour and xenophobia,” said the local council.
It added that several governments have known about these issues and other difficulties created by the “exponential growth of intensive agriculture” and that “nothing was done to solve the problem or even minimise it”.
In fact, the local authority lamented that the government has even tried to shrug off the blame and place it on the shoulders of local councils, and defended that it is in fact the State that is to blame for never having taken the warnings seriously.
In order to fix the issues once and for all, the council said the solution cannot only be to provide “dignified living conditions” for agricultural workers.
“The migrants who work and live in our community deserve much more. These municipalities, their councils and their population deserve much more. It is time to solve this matter,” the statement reads.
The council has also questioned the government about its overriding plans for the whole PNSACV and called for more dialogue with local councils to solve the existing “serious social problems”, as well as more funds to implement “Local Housing Strategies”.
“It is time to be realistic about the situation, which is serious on every level,” said Aljezur Mayor, José Gonçalves, calling for a “balance between agriculture, tourism, a sustainable economy and nature conservation”.