In Andalusia, an ecosystem is fighting desertification

Los Molinos del Río Aguas (Andalusia, Spain), report

The place is located at the entrance to the tiny village of Los Molinos del Río Aguas. An oasis with almost twenty inhabitants located in the middle of the Andalusian mountains in the nature park Karts en Yesos. After driving about ten minutes with Chloé and Idir, two residents of Sunseed Desert Technology, we head to a large white building. This is the main house – it the main house ». Sunseeders, as they are called, have just finished their lunch and welcome us in a joyful atmosphere. After three weeks of intense rain that blocks the entire life of the eco-center – a kind of educational, ecolibertary and international community created in 1986 – the sun is finally back. Members can easily resume their activities.

Sunseed is an alternative education project that should show that another life is possible », explains Michael, the group’s dean. This 36-year-old Spaniard is back on site after a first experience in 2017. Here we live in a community, for a few weeks or a few months. Currently the place has about fifteen members, mainly from Europe (England, Spain, France, Italy and the Netherlands). Sunseeders is divided into six work departments: organic kitchen gardens, eco-maintenance and low-tech. [1]ecosystem restoration, sustainable living, communication and education.

Small specimens of stone oak, planted in the greenhouses of Sunseed Desert Technology. © Paco Puentes / Reporterre

In the common room, Inès, 25, and a biology student, hold a lesson on mushrooms, a scientific term for fungi. The site is known for multiplying projects around these species to study their role in the conservation of ecosystems in arid environments. It is also one of the reasons why the young woman came here. For an hour, she shares her knowledge based on experiments conducted in the kitchen garden in particular. Here, all the crops are designed to cope with the lack of water and drought: accompanying planting, infrequent watering and mulch to retain moisture.

© Gaelle Sutton / Reporter

Every Friday morning, Sunseeders participate in a joint activity. That day it was Silvia’s turn, a 29-year-old Italian. This nature conservation specialist takes us to the ground around the site of an organic restoration workshop. During the morning, the teams plant various varieties of endemic species to promote revegetation and stop the erosion of these desert plains. Our goal is to lend a helping hand to the natural regeneration process », explains Silvia. Among these local plants:Esparto grass. Highly resistant to drought, it is also traditionally used by local people to make textile fibers.

The small village of Los Molinos del Río Aguas. © Paco Puentes / Reporterre

At Sunseed, the mix of knowledge is rich, but learning is not always easy as it is not based on a classical teaching program. Since I’ve been here, I’ve learned a lot, but not necessarily in the way I expected »says Ines. There is no one to tell you exactly what to do or what to learn, but I also understood that I could bring my own projects to life. » Everything goes freely and freely. Although the organization of the departments remains relatively similar, the projects and the shared knowledge develop in accordance with the people present. From the moment you arrive at Sunseed, you yourself will be a part of the experience »sums up Michael.

Our goal is to lend a helping hand to the natural regeneration process says Silvia. © Paco Puentes / Reporterre

To disseminate its practice, the place offers activities to the general public. Workshops, tours, mini markets are arranged regularly. This week they are getting ready to receive students from a Danish school.

A washing machine that works without power. © Paco Puentes / Reporterre

From the start of the project, knowledge transfer was put at the center of the approach. The site was created in 1986 by a group of British researchers working on the rehabilitation of desert environments in Africa. They had decided to bring their research program closer by settling in the region of Almeria, the only desert in Europe. Very quickly, they chose an education and community project to develop new ways of living and at the same time fight against environmental degradation.

In the library’s archives, stacked filing cabinets are overflowing with articles, files, notes … which provide an overview of the many projects and reflections that have been carried out for generations. There we find the first experiments with a solar oven from the 1990s. It’s incredible it would take us forever to consult everything », exclaims Chloé, 29, designer and team member eco-maintenance ». After all, the lack of structure and the constant renewal of members means that there is also a great loss of knowledge. » she remarks. An observation shared by the whole community.

Idir, one of the inhabitants of this educational, ecolibertarian and international community created in 1986. © Paco Puentes / Reporterre

Because after two years of pandemic, Sunseed Desert Technology is not going through its easiest period. A few months ago, the place embarked on a transition phase to find a course and restart its dynamics. Still under English auspices, the association seeks to become 100 % Spanish and major projects are underway: purchase of new garden plots, renovation of buildings, recruitment of long-term members, development of local anchoring …

Water is life »

Water management is a major problem in this area, which is particularly threatened by desertification. Los Molinos, the village that houses the Sunseed, is not connected to any network. All houses are equipped with solar panels. The water supply is based on a unique, completely low-tech traditional irrigation system. Water is taken off acequia – the canals – coming from the Río Aguas river by means of a hydraulic pump. His peculiarity ? It works only thanks to the energy generated by the pressure from the water coming from the upper levels, and then being driven towards the tanks that supply the dwellings. A fine example of what a soft, sober technology adapted to its environment can be.

The teams plant different varieties of endemic species to promote revegetation and stop the erosion of these desert plains. © Paco Puentes / Reporterre

This pump is like the beating heart of the village. Without her, there would be no life here »says Mattia, a hydraulic engineer in her thirties. Here we strive to keep the water as clean as possible », indicates the person taking care of the Sunseeds cleaning system. No chemicals are allowed. The entire water circuit is designed completely circular, from supply to wastewater treatment, so nothing is wasted. The infrastructure requires no energy and undergoes a number of natural filtration stages, such as phytopurification.

On the walls of the office, on the floor of the main house, are scattered a series of posters in honor of Water festival », which took place in April. Launched by Sunseed in 2017, this water festival is an opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of this vital resource. And with good reason: the river that feeds the village is in danger. Its level continues to decline due to the intensive agriculture that is ravaging the region. Dave Dane, a 74-year-old Dutch activist – one of the oldest residents of the village – has been fighting for years to condemn this ecocide. Water is life »he said.

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