Associação Benfeita Objetivos Regenerativos
Associação Benfeita Objetivos Regenerativos
Rua da Capela 36, 3305-037, Pai das Donas - Benfeita, Portugalarborbenfeita.org
ArBOR (Benfeita Region Association for Regenerative Objectives) is a grassroots non-profit umbrella organisation which has been set up by residents and landowners in the region of Benfeita in the Serra do Açor, Central Portugal, to facilitate and support sustainable and regenerative initiatives in this area.
We place particular emphasis on "rooted solutions" - ie. solutions which are developed in context and in place. Initiatives can be individual or collective. They can be focused on any aspect of life: environmental, educational, social, cultural, technological or economic. In addition to projects initiated by the management of the association, anyone living in the area can bring an idea to the association, become a member, and make use of its legal and fiscal structure to apply for funding and support to run their own project.
Since the 1960s, Portugal's interior has, like many other European countries, suffered considerable depopulation and neglect as well as progressive industrial-scale exploitation.
During the last decade, this mountainous region has attracted an unusually high number of immigrants from other parts of Portugal, the rest of the EU and beyond; the majority looking to return to a life on the land. The international community bring an enormous diversity of professions, skills, culture and experience to the area which, together with the deep traditional knowledge of the local people, forms a formidable skillset with which to move forward. As we feel our way into functioning as an integrated community, our focus is on regenerating both nature and culture in this area in a way which is fundamentally sustainable in its conception.
The entire area was devastated by the catastrophic wildfires of 15th-16th October 2017. Several of us lost our homes to the fires. This event has only strengthened our resolve.
ArBOR was legally founded on the 9th July 2020 in the middle of the CoViD-19 crisis, but has had a gestation period of four years and more. The founder members are from Portugal (3), the Netherlands (2), Belgium (1), England (1), Scotland (1) and Brasil (1) and have been working on individual regenerative projects in the area for anything up to a decade. Our friendships - transcending linguistic and cultural differences - have been our strength and support in overcoming the brutal aftermath of the wildfires and in rebuilding our lives. Our collective determination, not just to address the vulnerability of our environment to events of this type, but to regenerate lives and livelihoods here, is what unites us. We formed ArBOR to take this work forward.
While the focus of our organisation revolves primarily around relocalisation and our projects are developed for the benefit of the local environment and population, we have wider ambitions.
Geographically, this area of roughly 25km² forms a natural ‘bowl’, surrounded by mountain ridges of 600-1000m in all directions except north. These natural boundaries give both natural systems and human communities here a sense of containment. This not only gives the area an identity of its own, but also makes it a perfect study area for regenerative interventions. Impacts can be clearly measured and monitored, especially with respect to environment and hydrology. This gives rise to the vision of a ‘living laboratory’ where sustainable and regenerative initiatives can be designed, evolved, trialled, studied, prototyped and disseminated within the surrounding bioregion and beyond. We welcome academic involvement in our projects, both formally and informally, and have for some time already been hosting students and postgraduates at some of the projects in the area and involving them in community initiatives.
We have already successfully completed a joint project between ArBOR, the Instituto da Conservação da Natureza e das Florestas (ICNF) and one of the local commonlands (baldios) commissions to reforest 9 hectares of commonlands with native broadleaf species. The project was completed within projected timescales and according to plan. We anticipate this work will continue.
Among other projects, during the coming year we aim to ...
- start a local seedbank/library for regular exchange of landrace and heirloom varieties of food and medicinal plants and native forest species,
- create a local knowledgebank, collecting and recording as much of the wealth of local knowledge amongst the (mostly) elderly local population of these valleys before it’s lost and transform it into a community resource,
- create a design, visualisation and management plan for the establishment of a working native forest of up to 500ha of contiguous private and commonlands, for presentation to local landowners,
- develop strategies to restore the original Moorish terraforming of these valleys, repairing terraces and waterways, and in the process offering skills training in traditional dry stone construction.
This organisation is willing to involve volunteers who face situations which make their participation in activities more difficult, from the following categories for different types of project:
- Economic obstacles