Douro (Portugal) is an agrarian and predominantly rural region (NUTS 3) in the Northeast of Portugal. The NUTS3 Douro region comprises a territorial area of 4,112km2 split into 19 municipalities. It is a sparsely populated area with an average population density of 50 inhabitants per km2; it is characterized by structural demographic decline, defined by depopulation and ageing, which began in the 1960s.
The demographical decline of this region is part of an overall trend in Portuguese Inland rural areas. The most distinctive feature of Douro is its singular landscape dominated by the growing of vineyards. Douro comprises one of the oldest regulated winemaking regions in the world, established in 1756 to protect Port wine. Hence, its history, socio-economy and culture is largely led by winemaking activities. Since the eighteenth century, these have shaped a unique landscape of vineyards grown in steep hillsides along the upper Douro river valley, supported by loose stone schist handmade walls. The uniqueness of this human-made landscape was acknowledged by UNESCO in 2001 and granted the classification of World Heritage. This distinction contributed to the current success of DOC (Designated Controlled Origin) wines produced in Douro that turned out to be a worldwide branded wine region and a successful tourism destination.
The study focuses on an agro-ecological innovation consisting of a diversity of strategies aimed at enhancing the ecological infrastructures supported by and supporting the vineyards. These strategies include a set of agro-ecological farming practices: the growing of grassy vegetation (spontaneous or seeded green cover) in the vineyards and in the slopes of land terraces and schist walls supporting the grapevines, alongside with the recovering and enhancing of traditional landscape attributes.
These include live hedgerows, schist walls, old vines, patches of olive groves and Mediterranean autochthonous bushes. The traditional patchy pattern of the upper Douro valley wine region is being largely recovered, partially due to the landscape classification enforcement rules, but mainly to the winegrower’s initiative that have rediscovered the ecological and marketing benefits of “re-naturalizing” the vineyards growing. Enhancing ecological infrastructures (EIs) is an innovation introduced back in the 1990s by pioneering vine growers and is steadily becoming popular amongst the region winegrowers. However, its implementation is largely farm-unique and time-evolving and demands a long-term investment on in-field experimenting, testing, and monitoring activities. In order to be successful, winegrowers have to embody general scientific knowledge into their local-specific tacit knowledge that was created through a continuous process of learning-by-doing.
Who supports them in this venture? This case study highlights the role of an innovative farmer-based organization (FBO), founded by a leading group of winegrowers in 1982 to help themselves and the DOC Douro face the challenges raised by the huge competition introduced in the global wine markets by the entrance of an increasing number of producers from New World Countries (NWC). This FBO was created both to empower winegrowers and to enable them to anticipate global market trends. To accomplish that, they invested in developing strong back-office competences and skills from the start, namely intense networking with research institutions and worldwide experts, enabled by qualified advisors, including PhDs, who engage directly in R&I activities and co-create applied, scientific-based knowledge with researchers and winegrowers.
Full report available here.
University of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro
University of Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro (UTAD) is located in the region and has been playing a key role in the socio-economic development of the region. It is responsible for the education and advanced training of most of the highly qualified human resources working in the region’s wine sector, and a key player of the tripled KIS, underpinning the EIs innovation, developing extensive R&D in many areas. The team involved in AgriLink includes researchers from CETRAD (Centre for Transdisciplinary Development Studies) with experience in former EU projects on farm advice, including PRO AKIS and a focus on KIS (knowledge and innovation systems) and KIBS (knowledge intensive business services).