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Sistemas Importantes del Patrimonio Agrícola Mundial (SIPAM)

The Agricultural System of Valle Salado de Añana

Summary

Detailed Information

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Annexes

Detailed Information

Global Importance

The Valle Salado of Añana is an outstanding example of the interaction between humans and the natural environment in the creation of a salt producing agricultural system whose origin dates to Prehistory, more than 7,000 years ago, and which in the 21st century continues to enjoy great vitality. This productive system is a unique testimony to a traditional agricultural way of life that lasts to this day, having enjoyed a dynamic and resilient evolution that has allowed it to adapt its production method to the specific features of each era to ensure its sustainability.

The water flowing from the springs, the steep slopes, the sun and the wind, and the use of some traditional techniques have created a distinctive system, free from waste materials for centuries that exploited all the natural resources to incredible extents.

Food and livelihood security

The livelihood of the District of Añana in based on the production of salt. Salt has contributed and still contributes to securing the livelihood of the population and provides the community of salt workers with the agricultural products and services that they would otherwise have been unable to develop in such an abrupt and salty environment.

In addition, thanks to the activities of the Valle Salado of Añana Foundation, a turning point has occurred for Valle Salado, as it has continued to perform maintenance work in the salt works and to produce salt based on the ancient criteria of sustainability and adaptation, i.e. using the wisdom passed on by the local community over centuries. Today, the purpose is not to produce salt in bulk as before, but to reach the secular balance that has made the survival of the valley possible. In this sense, Valle Salado and its activities have already become a significant driving force in the economy of the surrounding area including agro-tourism activities, providing new hope for the future of the community of salt workers and their descendants.

Agrobiodiversity

The Valle Salado of Añana is located on the diapir, on which diverse land types are settled, resulting in a great wealth and variety of fauna and flora. Thanks to this geological structure, and one of its key features, a characteristic landscape has been generated. The soils host deposits with important paleoenvironmental and paleoclimatic information. As a whole, it is a saline habitat with an extraordinary biodiversity typical of wetlands associated with salty environments, which has led to its inclusion in the Ramsar list of international importance.

On the other hand, the small watershed of Lake Caicedo Yuso presents an interesting agroforestry mosaic of extensive herbaceous crops (cereals, rape, potatoes, beet...) and oak forests (holm, gall, Pyrenean), which are not affected by soil salinity, as it is confined in deeper layers. From an ecological point of view, the agricultural system of the diapir is a habitat connecting element in the great mountain corridor that extends from the Cantabrian Sea to the Western Alps. It can also be considered as a great ecotone formed by the three natural regions present in Álava: the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the transition between these.

Local and traditional knowledge systems

The salt obtained at Salinas de Añana comes from an ancient sea that disappeared millions of years ago. The salt has risen to the surface due to a geological phenomenon known as diapir. This explanation is relatively recent, and those who visit Valle Salado are still amazed to find that there is no sea nearby.

Salt production in Valle Salado requires certain infrastructure, such as channels, wells, salt-pans and storage areas that, distributed throughout the valley. The value of the Valle Salado, an agricultural salt production system, resides in the complex hydraulic system of distribution and storage of brine composed of hundreds of channels of pinewood that bring the brine to all corners of the site, by gravity. Essential to the valley's functioning is the old communal distribution system, as well as its unusual adaptation to the physical environment, which translates into the succession of stepped terraces built by humans with dry stone, wood and clay and in the salt crystallization ponds.

The salt obtained is storage areas in salt-pans where it dries until the end of the production season in October. Salt-pans are traditionally organised into groups called farms, characterised by a set of salt-pans worked by the same farmer and that usually include all the necessary elements to produce the salt, such as: the intake of the brine from the supply network, the salt storage areas, heaters, salt-pans and wells. Salt production in Añana is based on the evaporation of the water contained in the brine by natural means.

Cultures, value systems and organisations

The salt workers’ association, now known as Gatzagak, is an entity that groups all the owners of the salt-pans in Valle Salado de Añana. Their present legal description as a Corporation was created in the late twentieth century to adapt to changing times. However, this group of owners is one of the few organisations in the world that, in 2014, celebrated 900 years of history. It was created around the first quarter of the twelfth century and for centuries was known as “Community of Heirs of the Royal Salt Works of Añana”.

In addition, salt production is part of the local culture and language illustrated by typical vocabulary and oral traditions linked to the salt works, the survival today of toponyms documented a thousand years ago or traditional forms of social organisation.

Legends, rituals and festive events are linked to the salt production as The Fiesta del Entroje (Sacking Festivity) which coincides with the end of the salt harvest season, when the salt was introduced into sacks and then carried on their shoulders to the warehouses and The Festivity of San Cristobal, in homage of the Saint Patron of Salinas de Añana.

Landscapes and seascapes features

The landscape of the Valle Salado is based on a specific topological and geological conditions where farmers has developed adapted knowledge. This is how, taking advantage from the specific conditions, farmers have shaped the landscape by building a complex hydraulic system of distribution and storage of brine, composed of hundreds of channels of pinewood that distribute it in all corners by gravity, complemented by millenary salt cultivation techniques that are carefully preserved.

In addition, these salt production activities have also contributed to the developed of the actual habitat and maintenance of a specific ecosystem. Without the human activities the natural landscapes and biodiversity would be profoundly affected.