Drought: Iconic Algarve almond blossom could disappear, warn sector officials

Data indicates that the Algarve’s almond tree plantation area has fallen from 13,338 hectares in 2002 to 5,001 in 2022.

Almond trees in bloom, an iconic image of the Algarve, could be part of the past if the agony of the few orchards that exist, caused by drought and lack of profitability, is not stopped, sector officials told Lusa news agency.

The sharp decrease that has occurred in recent years in the Algarve contrasts with the significant increase in almond production in the country, mainly in the Alentejo, where new irrigated orchards in the Alqueva region allow productivity rates ten times higher than those in the Algarve.

“The [almond] orchards are becoming extinct; they have all moved to the Alentejo, and those that still exist are used to supply the traditional pastry sector”, lamented the president of the Alfarroba and Almond Group (Agrupa), Horácio Piedade.

Marzipan - Doce Fino
“… those that still exist are used to supply the traditional pastry sector”.

According to Piedade, Portugal is selling tourists “a product that no longer exists”, that is, the image of the Algarve with almond trees in bloom.

This decline was confirmed by the regional director of Agriculture of the Algarve. Speaking to Lusa, Pedro Valadas Monteiro suggested that the only way to prevent the disappearance of traditional almond blossom will be toeventually subsidise producers for their environmental and tourist services.

“The region loses a lot with this decline, as the almond tree is a calling card for tourists, an iconic and core element of the Algarve Barrocal landscape”, he acknowledged, arguing that the traditional almond tree should be “rehabilitated” and “its environmental and tourist component valued”.

According to data from the National Statistics Institute (INE), 2022 was the best year for almond production, with the quantity produced in the country growing annually at an average rate of around 15.6% since 2010.

However, INE data indicates that the almond tree planting area in the Algarve is in countercycle compared to the rest of the country, having fallen from 13,338 hectares in 2002 to 7,502 a decade later, in 2012, and to 5,001 in 2022.

In-shell almond production fell in the region from 1,628 tons (17,764 nationally) in 2002 to 777 in 2022 (46,215 in total in Portugal).

The 2022 numbers would have been even lower were it not for two specific irrigated orchard plantations in recent years in Cacela, municipality of Vila Real de Santo António (38 hectares) and Messines, in Silves (28 hectares ).

Almond kernel

The Alentejo is leading the way

The Alentejo region has contributed most to growth, with 2022 being the year in which the quantity produced in the region doubled that produced in Trás-os-Montes, which was the leading region in almond production until 2020.

According to Pedro Valadas Monteiro, the almond subsector is experiencing “a complicated situation”, a situation related not only to the lack of water but also to production on small properties with aged trees, spread irregularly, and the lack of homogeneity of plant material.

“We have to seriously think about remunerating producers for the public service they provide to the region (…) and that they cannot obtain from the market”, suggests the regional director of Agriculture and Fisheries of the Algarve.

According to the official, the situation contrasts with the Alentejo, “with irrigated orchards with substantially higher productivity, large production areas, highly specialised and mechanical harvesting”, making production “much more competitive”.

According to Pedro Valadas Monteiro, the productivity achieved in the Alentejo is ten times higher than in the Algarve, with producers being able to obtain between 2,000 and 2,500 kilos of almond kernels per hectare in their intensive irrigated and mechanically harvested orchards.

The low production in the southern region also means that it is not viable to install almond processing units, which then have to be transported to the Alentejo or Spain, which further harms the profitability of these orchards, he concludes.