It always starts when you least expect it.
We know by now the sounds of the cars of the Pedros, Antonios and Fransicsos drive by El Guarda every morning of the way to their piece of land to do their thing. The thing in this time of the year is getting rid of weeds and equalising the terrain ahead of the olive harvest the starts in a few months. It looks great and clean and makes the dragging of the nets with olives easier in due time. Just like they always did.
However an unwanted consequence of this way of working is that when it starts raining there is nothing that stops the water and roads become streams, sometimes almost rivers. Also in our dirt road. As there is no money to repair the damage increase over the years.
Finally the town hall has undertaken action to do something about it, but only if the people that have a piece of land pay for half of the costs, EUR 150 each. Most of them did, except for those with the big tractors that aren’t worried by the huge holes (created partly by exactly their vehicles).
So this morning no car but the lorries with gravel, the shovels and bulldozers waking up our ‘lazy guests’ driving back and forward as off 08.30.
Of course repairing the road is not the solution as erosion is huge here. Soil degradation around here in Andalusia is much more pronounced for olive tree cultivation than for the cultivation of cereals, sunflowers, or even grazing areas. I read that, according to official estimates, more than 80 tons of soil per hectare is lost every year in Andalusian olive tree plantations.
These losses are greater than the regenerative capacity of the soil. Furthermore, residues of chemical fertilizers may infiltrate and pollute the superficial layers of groundwater sources.
The Mediterranean climate is characterized by periods of drought alternating with violent rainfall during brief time periods. The hard, cracked soil makes it difficult for the rainwater to seep into lower levels. In addition, the steep topography of the cultivated lands tends to result in the downward flow of surface water.
Erosion occurs by the action of violent rains that disintegrate the soil when heavy rain flow downward along the slope. This causes earth particles to be torn away from the ground forming mudslides that scrape the soil still further. The hilly character of Andalusia accentuates this double process of erosion. In this way, a large amount of arable land is lost after each downpour.
The traditional ploughing system generates most soil losses. In the dry regions, hard superficial layers of earth are formed after ploughing. The soil structure disintegrates when this upper layer breaks up, forming numerous small streams through which water escapes without being retained by the clay layer.
The solutions to combat erosion therefore consist of using agricultural practices that curb the disintegration of the soil, favour water percolation and reduce the speed of water flow throughout the area of cultivation. Therefore, discontinuing ploughing techniques could essentially halt the phenomenon of erosion and with time, the ground could become firmer (reducing disaggregation or disintegration of the soil) to better tolerate the impact of heavy rainfall without weathering.
But living in the land of The Wet Monkeys it is hard to imagine that anything (also in this respect) will change in the overseeable future.