Sistemas Importantes del Patrimonio Agrícola Mundial (SIPAM)

Los pastos subalpinos de Andorra, Andorra (copy 1)

SIPAM desde 2023


Información detallada



Food and livelihood security

The elevated average altitude of the territory topped with the complex topography render it unfit to develop intensive agriculture or extensive lowland crop cultivation due to an extremely short vegetative period and limited soil availability.

In present times, the Andorran economy is no longer rural. 96% is fed by the tertiary sector, in particular tourism. Yet the geographical area and unique ecosystems that supported and still supports the agropastoral system of Andorra represent a large part of the national territory: 27.4%. The importance of this system plays a critical role in preserving and promoting the qualitative dimension of meat production: it represents 15% of the national market consumption. Other agri-food products (including jams and preserves, honey, eggs, sausages, cheeses, wines, beers, liqueurs and vegetables) are produced on a micro-scale but are gradually becoming national emblems.


Most of the Andorran rangelands and pastures are located at between 2,200 and 2,600 meters. From an ecosystem services point of view, domestic livestock has a positive impact on four aspects of the pasture and its maintenance through the dispersal of seeds, organic matter supply, the physical trampling of soil and the stimulation of the growth of certain species to the detriment of others. With this century-old system in place, the territory of Andorra is very rich in different types of pastures that constitute a reserve of flora and fauna diversity.

Besides, the livestock raised in the system is also rich in terms of species and local breeds of cattle, horses, ovines and dogs among others. Like the “Bruna d’Andorra” cattle, they are all adapted to the local conditions in the high mountains.

Local and traditional knowledge systems

The use of Subalpine and Supraforestal Pastures, limited to a few months during the year has generated the process of transhumance from the lowlands to the mountains and has led to the creation of a pastoral calendar with clearly established routines of moving livestock from one region to another in the country. In the spring, the animals move to the Subalpine and Supraforestal Pastures, and the calves will feed directly from the mother for a minimum period of four months. During spring, the animals graze in the fields and in summer they walk their way to the mountains to benefit from the Subalpine and Supraforestal Pastures. This is the time for the animal producer to cut the hay and store the fodder needed to feed the animals during the winter.

A distinctive feature lies in the fact that almost all mountain pastures in Andorra are communal property, for the collective use. Therefore, decisions about their use have to be made collectively among all the users and stakeholders. To ensure environmentally friendly agricultural practices, livestock farming in Andorra operates in a controlled extensive regime, meaning that only a determined number of animals, deemed appropriate to the carrying capacity of the available surface will be allowed to graze. The different types of livestock (sheep, cattle and horses) do not have the same routines.

The livestock herds that arrive first at the high pastures are usually the horses. They are more resistant to harsh weather and are able thanks to their dentition and by their mastication method to eat the grass closer to ground level, consume harder plants and also feed in spaces more soaked by mel¬ting snow. Horses are followed by bovines; they will be taken to uncultiva¬ted areas to catch the most tender and tallest grass. Once the end of the summer has arrived, all the cattle go back down and take advantage of the pastures where they have been fed at the beginning of the season or in some cases, take a new route downhill.

Cultures, value systems and social organisations

Based on the common lands and shared pastures, the local identity and management structure has been developed. Collectively the animals’ owners paid a shepherd or took turns to watch over and protect the herds from predators. All this human collaboration and organisation allowed the rest of the farmers time to mow, cultivate plots and perform other relevant tasks which in the absence of machines, were more time-consuming.

Connected to the social management, the “Lies i patzeries” (medieval local language) were “peace” agreements between communities that determined the use of pastures, but also of forests and other mountain resources. “Lies and patzeries” were often concluded cross-border or between valleys on either side of the massif, as the first ones date from the 12th century, that is, before the formation of nation States as we know them today. These agreements allowed the populations on both sides of the mountain range to trade with each other, irrespective of the larger-scale conflicts that existed between the different territories’ sovereigns/rulers.

Today, the intangible value and weight of the agropastoralism culture is still vivid in the cultural identity of Andorra. Expressions such as festivals, legends, customs and traditions are perceived as historical testimonies of the identity and creative capacity of peoples.

Landscapes and seascapes features

Extensive livestock farming has proved to offer many beneficial impacts on the territory and the ecosystem shaped by livestock grazing delivers several ecosystem services. It is a system for cleaning forests and mountains that minimizes natural hazards, both fires and avalanches, and promotes biodiversity as the animals disseminate seeds, larvae, funghi, etc. It also has a function of natural soil fertilization whilst the forage mowing at the bottom of the valley has a landscape function and a positive impact on biodiversity and landscape maintenance. The supraforestal pasture also represents one of the two main carbon sinks Andorra possesses in addition to forests.

In 2004, Andorra achieved a first step to the recognition of the value of those traditional activities with the listing of the Madriu-Perafita- Claror valley on the UNESCO World Heritage List as a cultural site. The cultural landscape of the Madriu-Perafita-Claror Valley is only a part of what the GIAHS of the AgroPastoral System of Andorra would acknowledge: the persistence of transhumant livestock, a pastoralism marked by a strong mountain culture, and the survival of a community-owned system of the land. The peculiarity of mountain landscapes shaped by livestock activity in Andorra is that they might look like natural landscapes, but in truth they are semi-natural ecosystems, shaped by humans and animals through the millenia.