The self-sustainable 'Gado Sapador' (Firefighting Cattle) project, winner of REN's AGIR Prize in 2018, is developed in the middle of the Gardunha mountains. Its success in preventing forest fires allows us to anticipate its expansion to the entire region and to other areas of the country.
The project, which is promoted by the Gardunha 21 Development Agency, seeks to defend and foster the surveillance of the forest against wildfires in the common land of Souto da Casa parish, by using the ancestral practice of grazing through flocks of sheep and goats, while allowing the economic addition of value of this practice with the commercialisation of milk, cheese, and meat.
After three years, Ana Cunha, from the Gardunha 21 Development Agency's Director Council, confirms the impact of this practice made by flocks of two species native to the region - the Charnequeira Beiroa Goat and the Merino da Beira Baixa Sheep - and which they intend to replicate on a regional and even national scale. 'The use of grazing practices not only enables the control of combustion factors but also creates conditions for the natural reproduction of chestnut and oak trees, two species native to this region, which act as physical barriers to the progression of fires. On the other hand, the presence of shepherds also favours surveillance and faster detection of fires, and the use of resources, namely water resources, by extensive grazing activity has forced, for example, intervention in the existing water points (dams)'.
The project's regional projection, according to Ana Cunha, drew attention to this solution as one to be replicated and even improved upon with regard to results on a regional or even national scale. 'We are in contact with multiple partners to create a model on a regional scale. For the success of cattle restocking in forest areas on a large scale, as regards intervention area and herd size, it is important to consider the use of meat and milk. It must be a model that combats the current situation of low profitability of goat exploration in an extensive regime, strengthening this activity at a regional level in different ways, namely by encouraging the occupation and use of rural spaces as the main policy of prevention, stimulating the participation of the resident active population; attracting investment, through community funds and partnerships with public or private entities; creating a business dynamic that makes the products of animal exploration profitable, namely the commercialisation of meat, milk, and cheese, and optimising economic, social, and environmental sustainability'.
To make this possible, Ana Cunha stressed the importance of reintroducing at least 1500 goats/sheep into the territory, in an initial phase, seeking for the animals to clear the fuel, leaving areas of potential fire danger free of vegetation. 'In order to achieve this, it will be necessary to bring together the joint efforts of producers, associations, parishes, and municipalities', she emphasised.
The award of 30,000 euros granted by REN in 2018 has already, according to her, made it possible 'to acquire infrastructure that is crucial to the success of the project, located in the 200 hectares of the common land of Souto da Casa parish council, as well as to finance the acquisition of native breed animals for extensive grazing'.
There are multiple ongoing partnerships associated with the 'Gado Sapador' project, namely a protocol signed with the Association of Cheese Producers of the Castelo Branco District that commits, through its associates, to collect milk from herds in extensive grazing in the Protected Landscape of the Gardunha Mountains.
According to Ana Cunha, 'a Municipal Regulation for the Granting of Financial Support Destined to the Promotion of Livestock Production was also recently approved in the Fundão Municipal Assembly. This regulation foresees an incentive of up to 10 euros per animal, for the grazing of small native ruminants (Merino da Beira Baixa Sheep and Charnequeira Goats), recorded in a herd book, and other races properly adapted to the region, which are introduced in the areas defined as Protected Landscape of the Gardunha Mountains. Finally, together with ICNF, the possibility of extending the Gado Sapador project, and allowing extensive grazing in the common land of the parishes of Alcongosta and Castelo Novo is being studied'.
Future plans focusing on the enhancement of historical and cultural heritage and new technologies
As for the future plans for the 'Gado Sapador', the manager of Gardunha 21 Development Agency mentioned that 'two projects are being implemented in coordination with the City Hall of Fundão. The first concerns the value addition of native Portuguese breeds, namely the Merino da Beira Baixa Sheep and the Charnequeira Goat, which represent a valuable genetic heritage and have great potential for economic addition of value and conservation of practices and habits, since they form part of the country's historical and cultural heritage and are an essential component of the rural environment where they play a fundamental role in the balance of ecosystems. Therefore, and due to the decrease of native breeds, the municipality acquired nearly 40 sheep of the Merino da Beira Baixa breed, registered in the breed's herd book, to complement the existing herd of the Charnequeira goat breed and to reintroduce the Merino da Beira Baixa breed in the municipality of Fundão. In the near future, the aim would be to cede genetics to producers of small ruminants more adapted to our region'.
At the same time, she said, a Plan for the reintroduction of flocks in the protected area of the Gardunha Mountains is being carried out, whose Regulation is in the final stages of approval, and which provides financial support to farmers in general in the municipality of Fundão, but which increases extensive grazing in the Gardunha Mountains' Protected Landscape. The provision of livestock management systems and the implementation of electronic monitoring and geo-referencing equipment to producers/farmers is also planned within the scope of the Fundão Agrotech Centre. 'In addition to understanding the instantaneous location, these software applications will enable paths taken, and the state of health of the animal, for example, to determine the existing fuel load in each of the plots delimited in the common land and available for grazing', she explained. And 'a mobile milking machine will also be acquired to be used by those who carry out extensive grazing in the Gardunha Mountains' Protected Landscape', she concluded.