2018 - 2019
please NOTE: We co-create our research with students and the farm, which means that this list will be updated throughout the year and is depending on the urgency and relevance on the farm and preference of the students.
Context and problem description: the South of Spain is highly degraded, with desertification closing in and more and more people leaving the region. On a farm level this means soil erosion and decreasing fertility, decline of biodiversity, lack of water (both drinking and farm use). On community level this means rural abandonment because of lack of possibilities, greying, outmigration, and a lack of inspiration among young people.
Solutions: the context of these problems is complex and solutions have to be of a holistic nature to capture all the different aspects of the challenges faced. Therefore we work with the 4 Returns framework of Commonland, taking into account the return of inspiration, return of natural capital, return of financial capital and return of social capital. We work towards solutions on farm level, looking at regenerative agriculture, sustainable business solutions and on community level; community building, changing perceptions and governance.
soil: ground cover, no tilling, compost, hedges and borders, perennials
water: swales, keyline systems, ponds, sediment traps, mapping water flows and erosion
biodiversity: mapping the flora and fauna, pollinators, natural pest management
ecosystem services: influence and benefits of regenerative practices on ecosystem services
biodiversity: influence of natural zones on agricultural land and vice versa
ecosystem services: importance of natural zones and services they provide
restoration: make restoration plans of natural zones (and implement them)
costs and benefits of regenerative/sustainable land use practices
Analyzing business opportunities like composting, integrated livestock, diversification, tourism, increasing the possibilities in the value chain, social entrepreneurship
GIS Cloud mapping: developing maps and monitoring for the AlVelaL region
Governance: how can the governance system become more favorable to regenerative agriculture
Network analysis of the AlVelal territory
Aim: How can farmers do successful intercropping between trees and aromatics or ground covers in dry/semidry areas like the altiplano in the South of Spain
Background: Intercropping in the south of Spain is not a common practice. Besides that,the Common Agricultural Policy surrounding the topic is vague on its implementation, farmers are hesitant regarding intercropping because of the fear for competition with their main cash crop . This has much to do with the fact that the annual rainfall in the region do not surpass 300mm a year. However, polyculture systems are gaining more attention because of their presumed benefits on both environmental and economic performance. Could this also be the case for South Spain, and what would be the most effective polyculture design?
Used skills: practical farming skills, ecological (aboveground/belowground) or economic monitoring, plants, climate knowledge, complex systems
Aim: Assess the soil quality and health at Camp Altiplano using the methodology developed for the 2018 baseline study and to compare the different spots within Camp Altiplano based on your findings for the different physical and biological indicators.
Background: Ecosystem Restoration Camp Altiplano is a 5 hectare plot within the farm of La Junquera. A Restoration Plan for the site has been written and will be implemented in phases over the next few years by everyday people who want to learn about and practise ecosystem restoration. A baseline study of soil quality and health of 34 selected spots at the camp was carried out in 2018. This study needs to be repeated annually in order to monitor the impact of the restoration activities on the condition of the soil. It was designed using scientific methodologies that can be easily and cheaply be repeated. You will work closely with the Restoration Coordinator at Camp Altiplano to assess soil quality and health using the following parameters: soil pH, temperature, moisture, alkalinity, conductivity, decomposition constant, Organic matter content, Visual Soil Assessment (structure, porosity, earthworm count, mottling), Nitrate, Biodiversity (macrofauna), texture (clay, silt and sand%), slaking and dispersion indices.
Used skills: ecological monitoring, soil science, statistics, biodiversity, technical expertise/interest
Possible extension: There is also potential to develop a monitoring framework for the impact of the restoration work on biodiversity at Camp Altiplano.
Aim: Identify arthropod (insect) mediated ecosystem services that benefit the farm, their providers and how they can be enhanced
Background: The services that insects provide play an important role in the functioning of agriculture. Most well-known are pest control and pollinators. Due to land use simplification and agricultural intensification we are losing these important players rapidly. What are pollinator and pest controlling species in Southern Spain? What measures are there to enhance their abundance and maximise their activity? Can you prove that their presence has a significant beneficial effect on crop production?
Used skills:biology, entomology, ecology, ecosystem services, biodiversity-friendly farming interventions, insect hotels, natural vegetation patches
Aim:Develop a low-budget monitoring framework on how to measure economic or ecological performance
Background: Identify SMART, low-budget indicators for landscape restoration. Depending on your background and experience you could develop a monitoring framework for the natural zone or the farming zone, and you could decide to focus on ecological performance (soil, biodiversity, water, etc.) or economic performance (production, management costs, market characteristics, etc.). This work will be fundamental for the future monitoring of the farm restoration activities and all follow-up studies that will be done.
Used skills:Economics, ecology, soil science, statistics
Aim:Ecological mapping of flora, fauna and fungi of La Junquera farm in the South of Spain (Murcia): map what is already there and what is its potential function.
Background: La Junquera is a big farm in the south of Spain with more than 1100 hectares of which 350 hectares are natural zones and mountain. Even though the landowners own the land for more than 500 years they do not have a good overview of all the species of plants and animals on the farm. It would be of great interest to discover the type of ecological functions existing on the farm and how to use them to improve the ecosystem and to restore the degraded land.
Used skills:biology, plant/species knowledge
Aim: Analyse the potential of new crops uses, yield, harvest, processing and other issues for every crop that is now farmed
Background: La Junquera farm (1100 ha) is constantly innovating and restoring its surroundings. To do this in the most effective way it is important to map the new crops that might be better adapted to climate change and that do well with very little rainfall. The farm is also looking for new sustainable business ideas that help it diversify and spread the risk in an ever-drying region.
Used skills:business knowledge, crop/plant/biology knowledge, innovation ideas
Aim: Analyse the potential of ground cover and perennials and how it can be implemented in semidry to dry areas in the South of Spain (Murcia)
Background: the combination ground cover and no tilling: how can this be implemented, what are the steps and which crops need to be put as ground cover? (there is only one successful example in the region, but its considered as one of the most important practices in stopping erosion). There is a great need for examples and trials to showcase how this is done.
Used skills:farming experience, plant/biology knowledge, experimenting, complex systems
Aim: What role do agricultural managed parts on the farm perform in the landscape in comparison to natural areas on the farm.
Background: this relates to the question how a landscape could be optimally designed to increase ecological (and economic) outcomes, think of reducing erosion and run-off and maximizing water catchment, but also increasing biodiversity, soil quality.
Used skills:complex systems, land use, plants/animals, farming
Aim: Productive list of keystone species that are beneficial for restoration or only arrive when an area is restored.
Background: The region of the Altiplano in the South of Spain is heavily degraded and at high risk of desertification in the coming years as the desert is already reaching the surrounding areas of Murcia. This has a great impact on the livelihoods of farmers and their families as well as on the social structure of the territory. Farmers tell that their lands are not fertile anymore and that all the life has left their land. Farmers who have changed their way of farming to a more sustainable land use, have noticed that some key species are returning; like for example the lady bugs who return to the farms when they transition towards organic farming. It is important for farmers to know how they can monitor the health of their land by looking at keynote species and their abundance.
Used skills:complex systems, biology, social skills, Spanish
Aim: How can livestock be used to restore agricultural and/or natural zonesin the South of Spain
Background: The region of the Altiplano in the South of Spain knows a long history of extensive grazing both on agricultural land as in the mountainous areas. This research can be about analysing new and other ways of grazing (managed grazing e.g.) that can benefit natural or agricultural areas (e.g. fertility).
Used skills: conservation management, animal science, grazing
Aim: Find a way in which drones can be used to restore the land or monitor effectiveness of restoration efforts?.
Background: the future of regenerative agriculture might include drones although this is not a common practice, yet it could be used to increase efficient and sustainable land use as well as having a part in the monitoring of agricultural land and natural zones. Analysing how this could be used and what the costs and benefits are, is essential to its future use.
Used skills: technical expertise/interest, restoration, modelling, complex systems, biology
Aim: Analyse how and what type of hedges and borders can be implemented on farms in the South of Spain that are benefitting pollination, stop erosion and increase natural pest management.
Background: the south of Spain knows high levels of erosion and is seeing a dramatic decrease in pollinators in the region. This has much to do with the livelihoods of the pollinators who lack space and food on farms as they become less fertile. Besides that the farms become less fertile, farmers increasingly try to keep their farms ‘clean’, meaning less natural zones and definitely no ground cover. Integrating hedges and borders on farms multiple benefits as it increases biodiversity, serves as a wind break, stops erosion and improves soil health.
Used skills: plant/animal knowledge, social skills (talking with farmers), understanding of the political system, complex systems
Aim: What is the potential for carbon offset schemes related to regenerative agriculture?
Background: The world of carbon offset schemes is a controversial one, there are pro’s and con’s which are all valid. Nevertheless, it is an interesting opportunity for governance to positively influence the transition towards regenerative agriculture by providing monetary instruments that can help overcome hurdles when it comes to implementing forestry schemes or (possibly) ground covers. Analysing its possibilities for restoration and regeneration are vital to this region as it is one of the poorest regions of Spain with very little resources available.
Used skills: governance, social complex systems, economy, innovation, business development, environmental schemes
Aim: Analyse climate smart/resilient solutions or business cases for farm in Southern Spain (taking into account future climate conditions) ?
Background: climate change is a topic often mentioned by farmers when it comes to their drying lands, even if, at times this has more to do with management practices. Farmers in the South of Spain have difficulty creating livelihoods based only on farming, often they rely on subsidies or extra jobs. Finding smart solutions/business cases and diversify farms is one of the key elements in becoming more resilient and work with the changing climate conditions, hereby looking at opportunities in the value chain, tourism, etc.
Used skills: value chains, sustainable business, governance, complex systems.
Aim: Develop a plan for La Junquera farm (1100 ha) in the South of Spain on water catchments and water management
Background: La Junquera is an 1100 hectare farm with big eroded gullies. It has a few springs of which the water is used at the farm and for irrigation. Besides the farm is testing out swales, keyline, and sediment traps to catch all the rains that may possibly fall (often less than 320mm a year). Developing a plan for the gullies and the agricultural plots on how to trap all the rain possible is of mayor concern for the farm.
Used skills: water management, satellite maps, climate
Aim: Analyse interactions within polycultures. For instance almond/walnut/pistachio trees and different groundcover species including ecological and economic benefits/losses
Background: La Junquera is an 1100 hectare farm with 300 hectares of almonds. Many farmers in the area do not implement groundcover between their almond trees because of fear for competition. Recent studies have shown that total yield (of both almond and ground cover crop) can still have an economically and ecologically interesting perspective in the long term, because it might increase resilience of almond trees. This research could focus on setting up an experiment with replication all over the farm with different ground cover analysing ecological and economic benefits.
Used skills: ecology, basic economics
Aim: Analyse the potential of wild/natural seed growing and harvesting economically and ecologically
Background: La Junquera is an 1100 hectare farm with 300 hectares of natural areas. Growing and harvesting natural and wild seeds is a great potential market since local species are generally better adapted to local circumstances and can play an important part in finding the right species for crops used for groundcover.
Used skills: agriculture, plant sciences, conservation biology
Aim: Analyse and develop a strategy for knowledge sharing with and between farmers and the Regeneration Academy.
Background: La Junquera is an 1100 hectare farm that is part is a network of 200 farmers in the region that all are interested in implementing regenerative practices. From the research done by the Regeneration Academy a lot of knowledge and insights are created. The question is what is the best strategy to make this accessible and useful to interested farmers in the area.
Used skills: social skills, experience with platforms, knowledge sharing, community