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Sistemas Importantes del Patrimonio Agrícola Mundial (SIPAM)

Malaga Raisin Production System in La Axarquía

Summary

Detailed Information

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Annexes

Detailed Information

Global importance

The region of La Axarquía (Málaga) is the main raisins producing area in Spain and the grapes grown are of the Muscatel variety. The references to the link between this product and the geographical area in which it is produced are ancient. Although the first references to this product date back to Phoenicians times, there were not many records that confirm the existence of a settlement and the development of agricultural activities in the area until the Muslim period.

In the 10th century, the area was famous for silk, raisins, figs, cane of sugar, etc. and at that time, it already had the farming systems that nowadays still characterise the agricultural landscape of La Axarquía. The organisation of the settlements corresponding to the Muslim civilization determined most of the features of the agricultural landscape of La Axarquía and Montes de Málaga, which lasted till the end of the 19th century.

These Andalusian slopes are difficult to access, to mechanize and then to cultivate. Nonetheless the difficulties, the local farmers have developed this raisin production that has allowed to maintain the landscape with its specific ecosystems and biodiversity as well as reducing erosion.

Food and livelihood security

Agriculture is the main source of employment of the municipalities that produce grapes for raisins. The production process is subject to a strong seasonality. Family labour force is mainly used in the whole process although if there is not enough people available in the family, additional workforce can be hired. There are artisan and industrial jobs directly associated to the production of raisins that are in danger of disappearing. Thus, it is difficult to find blacksmiths who manufacture tools and repair specific tools in their forges

The low yields and the small size of the properties do not guarantee the food supply for rural families. However, they are a complement to the family economy and a link between them. In this sense, the economic sustainability of this crop, - economically supported by the common agricultural policy – cannot be considered without taking into account social sustainability.

Agrobiodiversity

The district of La Axarquía is a big area with more than 1,000 km², where there is a great biodiversity, as well as a wide range of agricultural crops. In this raisins producing area, this wide biodiversity is represented by the existence of different flora and fauna, by the use of domestic animals to transport grapes and by the coexistence of certain crops, along with the traditional grapes Vitis Vinifera variety, in the farms where raisins are produced.

The importance of maintaining vineyards to keep the ecosystem balance and prevent erosion has become evident in those vineyards abandoned in recent times as the recovery of the natural tree flora has been almost impossible. Just some herbaceous plants and shrubs of small-size, with very little run-off water retention capacity, are able to grow in those areas previously cultivated.

Local and traditional knowledge

The farming techniques used in vine growing for the production of raisins in the area of La Axarquía are very similar to those techniques used in organic farming due to the impossibility of intensification. The entire vine growing and raisins production processes are done by hand using traditional tools that have been passed down from generation to generation. The main agricultural activities are planting and tillage and pruning. Planting management is specifically adapted to the topographical features planting using a system called tresbolillo. This method is much better, as more light may fall on the seedlings and reduce the erosion. Moreover, fertilization is done by the farmer by applying manure by hand.

During harvest, bunches are cut using a pocket knife and then carefully placed in boxes (aportaderas) or boxes that will be later put on a frame called "espedrera" on the mule that will transport the grapes to the farmhouse. Farmers carried them on their heads to bring grapes to the drying floors. Farming houses called “lagar” are specifically adapted to dry the grapes and requires a high attention from the farmers. The process ends with the drying and removal of the raisins from the bunch, once they are dried. It is a task also developed by hand using specific scissors designed to this end.

The cultivation on slopes generates a serious drawback in an area of heavy rains and it also hinders all the tasks related to growing. Farmers have developed an acute wit in this sense. They have used natural water passages by refurbishing them in order to prevent water from destroying vines and building, using a hoe, a series of diagonal drains to collect all the upper waters and masterfully lead them to streams.

Cultures, value systems and social organisations

This agricultural economy, based on smallholdings or similar land ownership system, conditioned the intense dedication of the members of the family to this type of farming. Thus, while men developed the tougher tasks such as planting, tillage, pruning, harvesting and working in the traditional drying floors, women were involved in the picking of branches, in the removal and selection of raisins and in the process of rotating the bunches in the traditional drying floors.

Vine growing and the traditional drying floors (paseros) have been the basis for the formation of households for centuries. In a rural subsistence economy, young couples settled in small buildings annexed to the traditional drying floors given in dowry to spur the economy of the emerging family.

Agricultural calendar is mostly based on the catholic feasts and calendar. In addition, several fairs and exhibitions are organized such as Festival of the Ajoblanco in Almáchar, the traditional festival of the Ajoblanco, the Muscatel Markets of Almáchar and Almác and mule fair arenas.

Landscapes and seascapes features

In La Axarquía, landscape consists of hills covered with the green colour of almond and olive trees and vineyards, with streams that create gullies and give life to small valleys. This landscape is characterised by the white structures of the traditional drying floors that produce the main landscape contrast. These traditional drying floors are accompanied by a series of buildings (farmhouses) which are used to accommodate the families and animals that move to the field at the time of harvest and grapes-drying period.

Axarquía agriculture has shaped this cultural landscape for centuries and is the key of its sustainability by reducing erosion risk and supporting the local ecosystem. In addition, this cultivation system is so far the most adapted one to such a difficult environment.