Since 2010, Fundación Global Nature (FGN) has been running a scheme to support farmers in Natura 2000 sites in the regions of Castile-La Mancha and Castile-Leon. Almost 40% of the Natura 2000 area is farmland, demonstrating the importance of supporting sustainable farming here.
With financial support from the EU LIFE fund, the FGN started a project to support nature-friendly legume, crop and almond production. The work concentrated, on encouraging farmers to grow their produce in an ecologically sensitive manner. Farmers were given seeds and offered guidance on sustainable production and cultivation methods, such as replacing chemical fertilisers with natural products; promoting crop rotation with different varieties of legumes to create a mosaic of cultures; and creating wildlife refuges around the crop boundaries.
In addition, the project also put a lot of focus on helping farmers to brand and sell their produce. FGM bought up farmers' harvests, packaged and marketed these crops at national and international trade fairs and with major supermarket chains. FGM installed a packaging plant in Toledo and created an almond production cooperative to commercialise the products further. It also designed a special packaging label to brand the produce, which uses the logo of Natura 2000 and an image of the great bustard as a symbol for ecological production.
FGN has intensively communicated the project in the Spanish media reaching average audiences of 10 million listeners in RNE Castilla La Mancha, 153.000 TV viewers in Agrosfera (La2 TV) and 100.000 viewers in the regional news Informativos 16h TVE Castilla La Mancha.
Farmer's interest in this win-win approach to Natura 2000 conservation and farming has been growing over the years. So far over 400 farmers have joined the project, altogether they manage some 20,000 ha of farmland. The production is now completely organic and is carried out under an ecological production certification which is linked to biodiversity protection. The Natura 2000 branding is also helping to increase sales. The project is therefore an excellent example of how farming in Natura 2000 can be not only viable but also competitive.