Cooperativa GuadiMonte wants to assert itself as «the brand of Castro Marim»

Cooperative «is a historic landmark, both in the municipality and in the region»

Photos: Rúben Bento | Sul Informação

From the hands of 12 young people (and some less young) linked to agriculture, GuadiMonte is being born, the first agricultural cooperative in Castro Marim, which appears to reforest the area burned in the August fire, create transformation units providing employment to 25 people and asserting itself as a brand for local products, in order to enhance and export them.

Passionate about the land and the countryside, Duarte Fernandes, 38, a businessman with businesses in other sectors, always had in mind the possibility of making a living from agriculture at the age of 50. "It is something that I believe is possible if we are not afraid to dream", he tells the Sul Informação, while looking at the horizon of the Castro Marim mountain range, devastated by last summer's fire.

«I'm not a 100% farmer. I am a businessman, I have a business group, and from time to time I invest in agriculture. I was born in the mountains and, a few years ago, I decided to invest in my origins».

Having his brother as a partner in some companies and his father as an assistant in the management of agricultural fields, Duarte began to invest in the place where he was born, Corte Pequena (Castro Marim), through the purchase of land sold by people who became disinterested. of the mountains, in which he has planted plantations, so that, in the long term, they become «productive assets».

This is the case of the fruit that he already harvests in his strawberry tree orchards and which he is thinking of distilling, “to make the famous arbutus brandy”. To innovate in the use of medronho, Duarte is also developing “other ideas on how to use it to make new handcrafted products”.

The businessman is also creating an organic farm, "to give the youngsters an experience in the countryside", but, for now, it is still a family business: "we make organic meat from Algarvian churra sheep, an autochthonous breed of the region ».


Duarte Fernandes – Photo: Rúben Bento | Sul Informação


«I had the opportunity to return with my brother to the land where I was born so that I could indulge in one of my passions. But there are other people who do not have the financial capacity to invest in this mountain range, as the investments to produce it here are frightening», he stresses.

Even so, Duarte Fernandes reveals ambition in what he has planned to do and conquer, because, he guarantees, "I don't stop dreaming big". And it was in the midst of these dreams that the GuadiMonte cooperative project «was taking shape».

One of the people who has supported the creation of the cooperative is Valter Matias, who knows the Northeast Algarve well, as he is a project technician at Associação Odiana and president of the Amigos da Alta Mora Recreational, Cultural and Sports Association, a place where he is dedicated to agriculture, with almond orchards.

I sell the Algarve mountain range devastated by the August fire, Valter Matias and Duarte Fernandes decided to reunite some of their friends, young people from the Northeast of Algarve, who have dedicated a little of their life to the land.

“We are 12 ambitious young people, some more afraid than others, but we dream big. I think we managed to bring together a versatile and multifaceted team», guarantees Duarte Fernandes.


Members of the GuadiMonte Cooperative


A first meeting of the cooperative «served to talk about what we could do and we came to the conclusion that there is not much we can do directly against a possible fire, but there is a commitment we can have before it starts and spreads: work the land”, explains, for his part, Valter Matias.

To that end, “ideas began to emerge”, including the creation of a cooperative that would encourage “cooperativism among farmers in the area, based on our generation. Individualism must end, we must come together and share the knowledge that each one has», emphasizes Duarte Fernandes.

Another of the ideas that came up was that of «reforest a good part of the area burned by the fire», with the planting of autochthonous species “that preserve the environment, manage to survive with the little water there is, combine with game animals and be a productive asset for the future of the territory”.

This has thus become GuadiMonte's first major objective: to be planted in the burned-out land, as well as in nearby places, where the owners also want, within two years, trees such as carob, olive or strawberry trees. These are “species that last for many years, through which, by making this investment, we are transforming these lands into a productive asset for the population”.

For that, the cooperative is already thinking about the next steps to «define the conditions that we are going to offer the owners to lease the land to us. We will have to define a plan to present to farmers, in order to explain to them very well what the added value of our projects is», explains Duarte Fernandes.


Burnt area that GuadiMonte intends to reforest – Photo: Rúben Bento | Sul Informação


The GuadiMonte cooperative intends, in partnership with the Castro Marim City Council, to create an Integrated Area for Landscape Management (AIGP) there, similar to the one in Monchique. “This is not a high-risk area for fires, but since they already burned a lot of hectares last summer, this classification can be requested from the ICNF – Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests”, he explains.

“This classification allows us to obtain a series of benefits, including some 100% funds, which for us is extraordinary, since we have the ambition that the project will reach an intervention area of ​​500 hectares, but no one has any money from the your pocket for that».

Therefore, «the creation of a cooperative makes it easier for us to obtain support from the State and European funds. Without that, it would be impossible to move forward with the idea».

«We are already working so that applications can be made to European funds, namely to the Recovery and Resilience Plan (PRR), and we have had the Regional Directorate of Agriculture and Fisheries of the Algarve (DRAPAlg) on ​​our side», reveals Duarte Fernandes.

In statements to the Sul Informação, Pedro Valadas Monteiro, regional director for Agriculture, explains that the support provided by the organization he directs falls within the scope of the project to «create a network of local producers in the Algarve, of which it is our objective that GuadiMonte be part».

«For the last meeting of this network, we have already invited a representative of the cooperative to come and present the project and the ideas they have, in order to see if GuadiMonte can gain scale and involve other farmers and producers in the Eastern Algarve», he adds.

There are also “other support, mainly European funds, for which GuadiMonte can apply”. DRAPAlg says it is available to help them "in issues related to the training of members of the cooperative, in the organic production method, as well as in the licensing of the activities of these young entrepreneurs", emphasizes Pedro Valadas Monteiro.


Valter Matias, president of the GuadiMonte Cooperative – Photo: Rúben Bento | Sul Informação


According to Valter Matias, another of GuadiMonte's goals is to create a brand that encompasses artisanal products, such as arbutus, honey, olive oil or dried fruit, so that it becomes the "Castro Marim brand" and asserts itself in the abroad, in order to export “the best that is done in the county”.

«We want to be able to have a strong brand for us to export and, thus, add value to our product. Thus, we will be able to sell on a large scale. We can go to the foreign market, sell the product, fighting the manipulation of those who come here to buy cheaper», explains Valter Matias.

In order for this objective to become a reality, the project foresees that, within three years' time, a distillery, a mill and a mill will be installed and ready to operate, both with packaging and canning lines. The installation of a center for the purchase and sale of dried fruits is also planned.

These processing units “will be important for the producers in the area, as there is no such infrastructure in Castro Marim”.

In order to certify the products, members of the cooperative will also be encouraged to obtain organic certification licenses. "Most of the farmers do not have this organic certification, but they should have, because they value what they produce", emphasizes Valter Matias.

With the creation of these processing units and all the logistics involved, the creation of between 20 to 25 permanent jobs is expected. The president of GuadiMonte believes that these jobs "will be important for our area". "Those who come to work in the interior will be able to live here, raise their families here and, in this way, we will also be fighting the desertification of the Algarve mountains."

GuadiMonte has barely started, but it is already full of projects, some of them innovative and capable of bringing a new dynamic to that area of ​​the Northeast of Algarve.

That's why the regional director of Agriculture makes a point of praising the cooperative: "it's a project made up of young entrepreneurs who don't let down their arms in the face of adversity and fight, because they want to recover and do better than what existed."

Pedro Valadas Monteiro emphasizes that this project «has, from the outset, an important first thing, which is the cooperation between the elements, as together they are stronger. But it also has a set of fundamental aspects, such as forest management interspersed with the agricultural part, the issue of livestock production with native breeds and issues related to agriculture itself».

"We are working in a network, also in partnership with the Chamber, to allow this project to be very successful", concludes the regional director.


Photos: Rúben Bento | Sul Informação


Filomena Sintra, vice president of the Castro Marim City Council, also expresses her enthusiasm for this project. “We believe that a new generation of rural entrepreneurship is taking place, through the new vision of these young people who are grounded and who are even predisposed to invest and work”.

"It is a great hope for the Northeast of Algarve, increasingly depopulated and desertified", stresses the mayor, in statements to Sul Informação.

The municipality of Castromarinense sees in this cooperative the instrument to implement a policy for the development of the Algarve interior.

“This has been talked about for many years, but people need to make it happen and make their agricultural projects happen. Here there is a group of people from a new generation with a different background and vision, who already have agricultural projects in the territory», adds the vice president of the municipality.

«Above all, we want GuadiMonte to create scale in order to have a vision of agricultural intervention with a productive character, a firm market strategy and, as a whole, that it manages to reach another critical mass. As a cooperative, producers have another capacity to engage in collateral activities, such as the marketing or the dissemination and marketing strategies for their products. Above all, some producers can leverage and motivate others», stresses Filomena Sintra.

With the objectives clearly defined, it is time to «call more farmers and producers interested in joining the cooperative and to show people that we are here to work and make it happen», stresses Duarte Fernandes. “We are not just another cooperative. We want to do more and better for our farmers and for the region».

«We can and must do something for the place where we were born and I think that GuadiMonte is a historic landmark, both in the municipality and in the region».

«Even if we only manage to do 20% of what we propose, we are already going to combat, to a great extent, the desertification of the interior of the Northeastern Algarve. And that will be gratifying», he concludes.


Photos: Rúben Bento | Sul Informação