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The Battle To Save Our Dying Soil

This camp in southern Spain is finding ways to restore degraded land

LA JUNQUERA, Spain ― In this sparsely populated region of rural Murcia in southern Spain, fields of thirsty almond trees eek sustenance out of the dusty soil and pale rocks tumble down slopes onto the sides of the road. Successive years of low rainfall have led to serious issues with water security, and some locals say increasingly mechanized farming has been detrimental to the land. This is agricultural country, but it’s clear that these are not fertile plains.

Scan the horizon quickly and you might not notice it the first time. But near a dip in the valley, something unusual is happening. Colorful yurts, compost toilets and an outdoor kitchen dot the landscape. It’s only a 12-acre plot, but it stands in stark contrast to its arid surroundings. Several species of green plants and colorful wildflowers cover the ground, and vegetable patches grow mustard leaf, spinach and broccoli. In the ponds, tadpoles swim in the shallows, and a trotter print in the mud nearby indicates a wild boar has recently stopped by for a drink. Young apple trees are blossoming, and people are digging trenches and planting potatoes.

This is Camp Altiplano, where volunteers are using simple practices such as creating ponds and loosening hard earth to return the soil to health.

“When the first tractors arrived [in the 1950s and 60s], that was a big moment for the degradation here,” says Alfonso Chico de Guzman, who owns the plot of land where Camp Altiplano is located. With machinery, most farms increased their amount of productive land by cutting down trees and shrubs, which are vital for healthy soil, the farmer says.

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