The shame of Odemira’s intensive agriculture has been taken onto the international stage by a German boycott campaign, powered by a woman who has been heartbroken by what she sees as the destruction of her beloved Alentejo.
Friederike Heuer, in her ‘other life’, is a tour guide. But the last tour she brought to Portugal – specifically to the Alentejo – was no holiday.
“Everything was covered in plastic, all the way to the cliffs. The old footpaths had been closed, privatised, and there was an explosion of Covid cases among the immigrant population…”
Friederike could not close her eyes to what she recognised as both a climatic and social problem, essentially ignored by the Portuguese government.
She returned home to Frankfurt – and started the campaign, which will eventually take in similar ‘blights’ ongoing in southern France and Italy.
As SIC television news explains, the resulting ‘manifesto’ is a “declaration of war against the intensive agriculture of the southwest Alentejo”.
The campaign document highlights the overuse of pesticides (leading to soil erosion/ water pollution); the unjust distribution of water (intensive projects are draining Santa Clara dam while traditional growers are being rationed click here) – and the workforce maintained in almost ‘slave-like’ conditions (click here).
Despite a visit to Odemira by prime minister António Costa when Odemira’s ‘Covid emergency’ was simply too hot to ignore (click here), Expresso has reported that very little in terms of improving workers’ conditions appears to have moved forwards.
Friederike told SIC: “The (Portuguese) government is promoting this agriculture…”
Friederike Heuer’s declarations are not ‘new’, but they have taken Odemira’s situation beyond Portugal – with the plan very much in hand to actively dissuade German consumers from buying this type of Portuguese produce.
The manifesto is now being widely shared in Germany via social media – and being distributed in paper format by a Portuguese bookshop (Centro do Livro de Língua Portuguesa) in Frankfurt.
The text, says SIC, takes in all the aspects of Southern Alentejo intensive agriculture: the 40,000-strong workforce of immigrants, living in substandard conditions, paying high rents – and the deeply unjust policies over water use and distribution.
Friederike, supported by German trades unionists, has taken the campaign into the streets and is planning new initiatives in the coming weeks. It is in these that the issue of intensive agriculture in southern Europe in general will be further addressed.
German newspapers – most recently Der Spiegel – have picked up on this campaign, ensuring that more and more consumers will hear of the negative value of a punnet of Portuguese raspberries, or purchase of Portuguese avocados
Social media messages in Germany end with the hashtags ‘bring an end to’ #agriculturaecologica #todospeloparquenaturalalentejano #stopagriculturaintensiva #stopestufas #cidadaniaativa #sustentabilidade #BoycottIntensiveAvocado #BoycottIntensiveOranges #BoycottIntesiveRedBerries #BoycottIntensiveOliveoil #BoycottIntensiveAlmonds.
This campaign could end up affecting a sector that Der Spiegel estimates generates €247 million per year. Within Portugal many consumers already ‘think twice’ when they purchase a bag of rucula or salad greens from the Alentejo, only too aware of the model of agriculture behind them.