On June 22nd, CIMBAL organized a webinar on ‘COVID19 and the challenge of self-sufficiency in food: the case of the food network in Mértola’. Fernando Romba, Executive Secretary of CIMBAL, presented the CityZen project, CIMBAL’s role in it and the relevance for the region.

Marta Cordegano, project coordinator in ESDIME - Agency for Local Development in Southwest Alentejo, made a presentation on the implemented projects in Mértola which focused on key issues related to the use of resources and food production. There is a clear need on shifting the current paradigm of food system and Covid-19 highlighted this.

There is still a strong dependence on intensive use of resource systems that produce a great amount of CO2 emissions. An example is the intensive animal production which are often the origins of pandemics.

Mértola has started to implement several projects which meet the need to shift traditional ways of producing food. One is a 'Local food network' started in 2018 by establishing trust with local farmers. A challenge was launched in order to reach self-sufficiency by local production namely for school cafeterias or restaurants. Meetings were held and an initiative was launched that is still active today, ‘At night in the market’. Each participant needs only to comply with two rules to acccess it: Bring some food that is made out of local and seasonal products. This created an opportunity to gather people to talk, while eating without paying, on climate change and other areas. This has had such an impact that even local supermarkets started to have more local products to sell in their stores. Mértola is a village with around 7200 inhabitants, the impact was huge.

Another implemented initiative was ‘Forest gardens’. In five schools, urban gardens were created and training activites were held in order to show how everything works from production to consumption. The school cafeterias also started to use these products. Farmers in Mértola received specific training and study visits to promote learning among peers also in regards to synthropic agriculture.

The third initiative showcased is related to making land available for people from any age, gender or background training. A programe was designed which starts out with a three-months training with a local farmer. Then, after learning the basics of agriculture, there is an initial support of the municipality to allow the farmer to have a minimum ensured income and also a place to stay during this experience if they are from outside the municipality. The second phase is related to testing and autonomous learning. During the third phase they can have a contract of 7 years to use the land for production and for another 6 months they still have the support from the local farmer that has provided the land to be used. The distinctive feature of this initiative is the possibility to test without fear of making mistakes. If on the first two stages the person acknowledges that in the end they don’t see themselves as a farmer, there is no need to give back the support provided. This initiative was expected to start on March 2020, but had to be delayed due to Covid-19. However, several expressions of interest have been received.

Thanks to these initatives, Mértola has been able to attract more people. Even citizens that were living abroad are willing to return with these new opportunities, particularly with the availability of land.