Systèmes Ingénieux du Patrimoine Agricole Mondial (SIPAM)

Barroso Agro-Sylvo-Pastral System, Portugal

GIAHS since 2018


Detailed Information



Site location: The Barroso region is located in Northern Portugal and the site covers 2 municipalities: Boticas and Montalegre.
Area of GIAHS: 1.127,40 km2
Population working for this system: Resident population (2013): 15,589 inhabitants
Topological Characteristics: Mountainous area
Climatic Classification
Primary Income Sources: Agriculture, livestock breeding and processing of foodstuffs, forestry and grazing and tourist activities.


Global Importance

Barroso is an agricultural region dominated by livestock production (mainly bovines) and crops that are typical of mountainous regions (mostly potato and rye). With human occupation for thousands of years, this area of Northern Portugal presents today a pattern of land occupation marked by human activity for agriculture, forestry and grazing, while a number of very significant and relatively intact environmental areas are still found.

In this region there are numerous plant and animal species which are extremely important for nature conservation, particularly those considered Priority Species under the European Commission’s Birds and Habitats Directives.

Food and livelihood security

Animal production is the basis of the region’s agrarian economy, and is dominated by extensive breeding of cattle for beef. It can be seen that production on the farms in most Barroso parishes is predominantly geared towards the extensive production of beef cattle, with other ruminants usually emerging as a minor production, with the exception of some parishes in the east, where they dominate. One of the differentiating features of the site is the still strong prevalence of a local food system, based on local produce and dishes, which are made from locally produced smoked meats, bread, potato, cabbage and pulses.

The maintenance of this landscape has been ensured mainly by the extensive grazing (to which practices such as the cutting of weeds for animal beds, fires for the renovation of the shrub pastures and the cutting of firewood for heating the dwellings are associated), and by the maintenance of the marshes, given their importance in the livestock economy. In addition, beekeeping activities are part of the system.


The biodiversity of the Barroso agrarian system is patent in the variety of indigenous livestock breeds. The most notable breeds include the Barrosã and Maronesa breeds (beef cattle), the Churra do Minho breed (sheep), the Cabra Serrana and Cabra Bravia breeds (goats), the Bísara breed (pigs) and the Garrana breed (horses). These local genotypes constitute a cultural and biological heritage and a guarantee of sustainable productive use of marginal areas and resources. In addition, potatoes are grown in the mountains and submontane valleys, traditionally using a number of cultivars including the "Batata de Trás-os-Montes" which got the attribution of the geographical name Protected Geographical Indication.

Human occupation has indelibly marked the Barroso territory and contributed to maintaining the habitats in different levels of ecological succession, creating a complex of diverse plant formations rich in flora peculiarities. The role of domestic herds in maintaining the ecosystems is significant since rough grazing by sheep and goats contributes directly to the control of shrubby and herbaceous vegetation, reducing the risk of fire, one of the main threats to agro-forestry production and regional biodiversity.

Traditional and adapted knowledge system

Crops are mostly rainfed, the most important being rye and potato which are cultivated in rotation with set-aside. Closer to villages and their houses, a belt of irrigated crops is kept, followed by permanent pastures for the production of hay and cattle grazing. Further removed from populations, are rainfed cereal fields and scrub wasteland (usually common land) where various types of animals (cows, sheep and goats) graze.

One of the land uses and forms of land management is the common land. The common land is a type of collective property, owned and managed by local communities, which is very typical of Portuguese mountainous regions. This cattle grazing practice in a shared form, in which the various animal owners participate, is based on a set of rules, which vary according to the village: there are vezeira (shared cattle grazing) where the cattle is kept on the common land in rotation, the number of days for each herdsman being calculated according to the number of heads of cattle they own.

In addition, a very important irrigation system by gravity has been developed on the hills. The water concentrated in water courses is diverted by means of a small weir or impoundment into small channels along the slope, roughly respecting the contours, from where they drain into the permanent winter pastures, ending at another gully located at a lower height and returning the non-infiltrated water to the water course from which it was originally captured.

In winter, this process allows the effects of ice on the pasture to be controlled, since the temperature of running water is always above zero. Through this thermal regulation, the development of vegetation is fostered at a time when this growth would have been rather limited by the low temperature of the atmosphere.

Cultures, value systems and social organisations           

From a cultural perspective, the people of Barroso have developed and maintained forms of social organisation, practices and rituals which make them stand out from most populations in the country in terms of habits, language, and values, as a result of both the conditions and geographic isolation, and the limited natural resources which have led them to develop exploitation and usage methods consistent with their sustainability.

Communitarianism is one of the most typical values and customs of Barroso, closely associated with the rural practices of collective living and its need to adapt to the environment. It is a form of rural organisation, illustrated by the Vezeira where grazing cattle is shared within the community on a specific territory.

Landscapes and seascapes features

The whole productive and pastoral system is developed from the village, within a spiral growth pattern: closer to the houses are the vegetable gardens, for the production of food for daily consumption, and the marshes for the production of hay and cattle grazing; further away are the arable fields, usually rain-fed, for winter cereal and potato crops; lastly, in the outskirts of the village, the mountain plots, usually common land, taken up by scrubland, cut for cattle beds, and poorer pastures for rough or free-range grazing of certain flocks.

The mountain landscape is historically related to traditional farming systems, largely based on rearing livestock and the production of cereals. This gave rise to a landscape mosaic in which ancient pastures (marshes and common land), farming areas (rye and potato fields and vegetable gardens), thickets and forests are interwoven, and where the animals (mainly cattle) are a key element in the flow of materials between the system's components. Currently, all this represents a fundamental asset, also in terms of the ability to promote tourism, especially in its rural and nature modes, which play an increasingly important role in the region’s activities.