A community of farmers and fisherfolk, a community of heroes

The resilience of Valencia’s “L’Horta” in times of COVID-19

Fishers and farmers in L’Horta in Valencia, Spain are still guaranteeing that food reaches not only the Community of Valencia but also other communities and towns outside its borders. ©Bruno Almela


Amparo Aleixandre's routine is no longer the same. These days, she receives orders through text messages, most of them come from her neighbors in the town of El Palmar, an island with about 700 inhabitants, surrounded by the Albufera lagoon, rice crops and orchards. El Palmar is several kilometers away from Valencia, Spain.

Early in the morning, fisherfolk from El Palmar take their small boats and head out at about 4 a.m. to be able to cover the increased demand of fish due to the COVID-19 crisis. Three more fishermen were recruited to join the usual 30 that work in this community of El Palmar. The main fish variety caught is “Lisa”, which is very popular among the island’s inhabitants. This period used to be perfect to harvest eel, but since this product is manly for hotels, restaurants and export, they are spared during these times of pandemic.

Amparo, who is a member of the El Palmar fishing community, receives the fisherfolk upon their return at 8 in the morning. It is still cold when they arrive at the fish market to start packing, labeling and shipping to their destinations all over the city. Once a week, they go out on their electric bicycle equipped with a small refrigerator to transport fresh fish to the families of El Palmar or to the elderly who live alone and cannot leave their homes during the city lockdown.

"Right now, we are farmers and fisherfolk fighting to guarantee that food reaches everyone including those who are sick, doctors, prisoners, families who are at home, everyone," says Amparo proudly.

Fishers and farmers are adapting to the changes caused by and restrictions put in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic. ©Terra Viva

El Palmar is a small tourist town, in the southern part of the L'Horta territory. L’Horta, as it is called in Valencian, is an irrigation system declared by FAO as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS) in 2019. It is located in the city of Valencia and provides healthy food to a million and a half Valencians.

FAO launched the GIAHS programme 18 years ago. Aiming to strike a balance between conservation, sustainable adaptation and socioeconomic development, the GIAHS programme helps identify ways to mitigate the threats faced by farmers as well as enhance the benefits derived by these systems. Through multi-stakeholder support, this approach aims to provide technical assistance, boost understanding of the value of keeping alive sustainable agricultural knowledge and promote agricultural products, agro-tourism and other incentive mechanisms and market opportunities.


L’Horta hosts an irrigation system that has been functioning for almost a thousand years. Since 1200 the Arabs brought with them their diet and water management practices that adapted over the centuries, responding to crises and other pandemics as well.

Thanks to L’Horta’s irrigation system, 6 000 family farms, including 10 fisheries, guarantee food reaches not only the Community of Valencia but also other communities and towns outside its borders. This irrigation system and use of water is an example of agriculture adapting to climatic conditions.

Youth back in the field

Enric Navarro is part of a group of young people who have decided to return to L’Horta, after having, like generations before him, fled to the cities.

For the Valencians "L’Horta is like a life insurance," says Enric, who has a company with about 20 employees and 4 hectares within the GIAHS. His orders include cabbage, fennel and leeks distributed in two Valencian markets. In addition, 65 percent of his production goes to countries in northern Europe, where the consumption of agro-ecological products is very widespread.

"We were coming from a very bad season, but we have seen sales triple in the local market and that means that Valencians are eating better," says Enric


Although La Tira de Comptar, a traditional market in Valencia that has been operating since the 12th century, is fully operational, new distribution methods are being formulated to close the gap between producers and consumers.

To counter the ban on open-air markets and direct sales during this health crisis, farmers, or llauradors in Valencian, have had to use social media to reach their consumers. They have quickly turned to technological platforms to sell their products, advertise home deliveries, share recipes for seasonal products and to compete with imported products from large supermarket chains.

Amparo Martí, the Councilor for agriculture of the municipality of Meliana in Valencia, stressed the support given to farmers and associations through the council to access digital platforms to promote their crops.

L’Horta of Valencia was designated as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS) in 2019. Its irrigation system, in function for almost a thousand years, has adapted over time to crises and changing climatic conditions. With its 6 000 family farms and 10 fisheries, this site is vital for the Community of Valencia and beyond. ©Mar Ortega


A tornallom is a Valencian expression that consists of mutual support, without money involved. It is the ideal term to define the images of local news showing tractors voluntarily disinfecting the streets of Valencia.

Professor José María Álvarez Coque, Director of the Tierra Ciudadana and Chair at the Polytechnic University of Valencia, adds that a solidarity network has been set up in L’Horta that has contributed to guaranteeing food for Valencians and its producers. This shows a fertile ground for preserving sites like those recognized as GIAHS.

One system, part of a whole

“For me L’Horta is everything. Fisherfolk and farmers are my family. I don't know what my life would be like without this landscape,” says Amparo.

The FAO GIAHS programme has to date designated over 50 sites as dynamic spaces where culture, biodiversity and agricultural techniques coexist, proving to be vital to achieve food security and generate livelihoods. In this case, they also prove to be key to facing a crisis like that caused by COVID-19.

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2. Zero hunger, 8. Decent work and economic growth, 15. Life on land