Saved by the godparents

One of the olives that was adopted in Oliete, Spain.

One of the olives that was adopted in Oliete, Spain.   | Photo Credit: El Pais


When rural residents moved out, olives in Spain faced a threat. But not for long

There are few things worse than being neglected into oblivion. The olive trees of Oliete, a village in Teruel, Spain, were disappearing for this very reason. Oliete’s 300 residents live surrounded by the trees, and most families own land with at least a few. But Oliete is located in one of the most deserted areas of Europe and, due to a rural exodus, its 100,000 olive trees seemed doomed. Then, four years ago, hundreds of “godparents” came to their rescue.

Alberto Alfonso, 41, is one of Oliete’s many children who emigrated to the big city (in his case, Barcelona), looking for work. Each year, he would go back to his family’s farm for the olive harvest. In 2013, he took notice of the empty and neglected neighbouring fields; there was nobody left to work them, and 70% of the trees had been abandoned. “He said to me, ‘The village is dying, we have to do something,’” said Sira Plana, 40. Her grandfather was the village veterinarian in the 1950s, and her parents had emigrated to Madrid.

100-year-old ecosystem

Alfonso and Plana decided to create Apadrina un Olivo (Adopt an Olive Tree), a non-profit hoping to create jobs in the village, save its 100-year-old ecosystem and bring life back to a dying region. They had the will but lacked the money. What’s more, most of the trees they were trying to rescue did not belong to them; many were inherited by people who had left town and had neither the time nor the will to return. “We worked it out it with a legal entity called land stewardship. It’s an agreement between two parties in which one promises to take care of a natural area that belongs to the other,” Plana said.

Two young computer engineers who Alfonso had met at a party in London in 2013 tackled the money issue. The internet was the only real way to spread the word.

The engineers, Pablo García and Adrián Martín - and his brother José Alfredo - took pictures of all the trees, then identified each one with a code and offered the world the possibility to adopt one for €50 a year. In return, the donors would receive two litres of oil from each harvest.

The engineers created a user-friendly website, which, combined with an excellent social media strategy and occasional media appearances, opened Oliete to the world. They obtained 500 donations that first year, and ended 2017 with 2,450 donations, many from France and Germany.

Nicole Escolier, a 68-year-old French woman, is a godmother to some of the trees. “I'm very Mediterranean, olives remind me of my French and Algerian roots, so when my husband came across this project, he adopted a tree for me. Now we have four,” she said.

Since its foundation, the non-profit has saved more than 7,000 olives and created 14 jobs, two of which brought in families from other Spanish regions, adding eight children to the village. Thanks to them, the local school remained open. Oliete has acquired an olive oil press too.


This article was originally published in El País, Spain.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2020 10:07:23 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/saved-by-the-godparents/article24174282.ece

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