dimanche 19 octobre 2014

In the North-Eastern Armenian Pomegranate Orchards (1)

It is a mid-October sunny afternoon and we leave Djudjevan with Levon B. and his father to go and visit some pomegranate orchards in two villages located at the North-West of Noyemberian. Levon belongs to the very small club of philosophers who are also… pomegranate growers. We cross Berdavan, its peach orchards and vineyards with their warm autumn colours.

Levon’s father explains us that there are some lands on the Georgian side of the upper Debet Valley, just in front of us, where the soil and subsoil are under Georgian jurisdiction whereas the trees that grow on it are under Armenian jurisdiction. We arrive in Bagratashen, our first destination. The mayor introduces us to a group of fruit growers who decided to join their efforts to set up a fruit drier. There is one room in which four women are pealing pears. And next, there is a cold room with plastic bags full of delicious dried peach, plum, pear slices. Some of them are exported to Italy. We try some and then discuss around a cup of coffee. Our discussion revolves around dried arils, Spanish pomegranate cultivars,…

Valer, who comes from Azerbaijan, has a pomegranate orchard of 1 ½ hectares and cultivates a variety that comes from Goychay, a district in Azerbaijan where there is a long pomegranate tradition. The fruits seem to be large, red, not too sweet and with hard seeds. He started a decade ago but he is unable to show us any of the fruits because most of his trees got frozen during the last winter. He is waiting for them to recover.

Micha is another fruit producer from Bagratashen. He grows 2 hectares of pomegranates and has 4 or 5 different varieties, some Armenian ones and others from Azerbaijan, some of his trees being 17 years old. We take the car and drive across Diospyros kaki orchards planted in this peninsula surrounded by Georgian territory. He has planted several hectares of kaki. He waters them. His neighbour, a priest, has an olive tree plantations. There are also mulberry, fig, apricot trees here and there, taking advantage of the rich local soil and the southern exposition.

Micha first shows us an Armenian variety that is rather small, yellow/white outside and red inside. Delicious! 

He then shows us a small variety from Azerbaijan that is red outside, red inside, has large seeds and is delicious too. Its name is Ganja (Gandzak in Armenian), referring to an area in Azerbaijan.

We then drive west, following the Debet valley, to the next village: Debedavan. Here again, the mayor was expecting us. He explains us that the village has a total of approximately 2 hectares of pomegranate trees. On his shelf, there are three red pomegranates. They are red inside, juicy, sweet sour, average size and he tells us that they have had it for a long time in the village. We then visit with him one of the orchards, not too far from his office. The fruits are yellow-pink and nicely red inside. The arils seem to detach themselves so easily. They fall in our hands as we open the fruits. Sweet sour again and we all exit the orchard with very sticky hands.

On our way back to the car, another villager brings us a fruit of the Gandja/Gandzak variety, the same as the one we saw in Bagratashen. He insists on the fact that the skin inside is pink, not simply white. The sun is slowly going down and we drive back home after a happy afternoon, our mouth full of flavours.

In the North-Eastern Armenian Pomegranate Orchards (2)

We spent the day after in Koti, a peninsula of Armenian territory surrounded by the frontline with Azerbaijan. Levon’s mother, Aghunik, hosts us in her house with its wonderful little vegetable garden: cabbage, tomato, basil,… The house still didn’t recover all its glass windows blown away by two Alazan rockets that fell there during the 1992 war.

Levon has planted here a bit more than 100 pomegranate trees in April 2013. He waters them once a month and covers them during the two first winters to protect them from the cold. Three cultivars: Goychay, Ganja/Gandzak and another Armenian one, all coming from Bagratashen.

We then visit a large area that used to be covered with orchards, including of pomegranate trees. It is only used for cereals and tobacco nowadays because there is no access anymore to the large water reserve located on the Azeri side. The geopolitics of pomegranate is not far…

The atmosphere reminds of Buzatti’s Il deserto dei Tartari on this peaceful afternoon, with this steppe landscape and the Georgian and Azeri mountains in the far front. The locals tell us that Kalachnikov shootings between Armenian and Azeri soldiers are frequent. Not a single one today. Just Chacals howling around the village, in the darkness of a late evening, the dogs joining them while we are having a delicious bowl of matsoon, sheltered from the rain.

The village also has a few donkeys, including this little 5 years old black female named ... "black" in Armenian. Aghunik, Levon's mother, shows us a very nice donkey pack. She made it by hand with her grandmother, one of the local centenaries, who died at the age of 105 (here: in 1990 in Koti at the age of 98, with Aghunik on the left, in front of a Cornelian cherry tree). Memories of an Alentejano donkey pack in manta from Reguengos are not far…

mercredi 8 octobre 2014

Researching on Dehesas and Montados - Interview with Fernando Pulido

Fernando J. Pulido Diaz is a professor at the University of Extremadura (Plasencia) who has been doing research for years on the Dehesa. This is a savannah landscape, typical of the South West of Spain and the South East of Portugal – where it is referred to as Montado. Quite a surprising landscape for most northern Europeans. It is one of the largest agroforestry systems in the world, covering 2,3 millions of hectares in Spain and 0,7 millions in Portugal, dominated by Quercus ilex/rotundifolia (Holm oak) and Q. suber (Cork Oak), depending on soil characteristics. An amazing habitat for wildlife, it also involves a complex cycle of agricultural practices. Fernando Diaz has accepted to answer a few questions.

A. G. Fernando, what do we know about the origins of this landscape? Did it evolve out of dense forests where Quercus were the only climacic species? Why did local communities not mix dense forests with fully cleared arable land instead of moving extensively to the more intermediary agricultural Dehesa landscape? And where does the word “Dehesa” come from?

F. P. Iberian oak forest have been cleared by human populations since the Neolithic, but dehesas as a systematic type of land use dates back to the early Middle Age, when the word “dehesa” (from the latin “deffesa”) also implies a legal status for grazed lands which were defended from uncontrolled use. Oak trees were retained because they increase forage, acorn and firewood production.

A. G. Are the origins similar for the Portuguese Montado and for the equivalent landscapes that exist in California?

F. P. California oak woodlands have been managed by natives for millennia but with a much less intensive use because they did not practice livestock husbandry nor tree thinning or pruning. The origins of the montado apparently differ from the dehesa because of the greater importance of cork in Portugal.

A. G. In the Dehesa, the holm oaks are pruned, a bit like fruit trees in orchards. What are the rhythm and functions of such pruning?

F. P. Quite surprisingly, there are not conclusive data of the effect of pruning on acorn production. Therefore, the main benefit is firewood. Pruning was performed every four year (matching the cycle of cereal crops) in the traditional dehesa system (before 1960). Currently, pruning does not follow a specified time schedule and it is performed according to firewood demands.

A. G. Nowadays, one often hears that this landscape is under threat. Is this true? And if so, what are its causes? Too deep ploughing? Too intense grazing? New mushrooms? New Insects? Climate change?

F. P. Yes, it is certainly true mainly because of tree regeneration failure and tree diseases. In general, the system is now used much more intensively due to a three-fold increase in stocking rates as compared to traditional levels.

A. G. One interesting finding seems to be that when Holm Oaks are grown in less dense formation, they can stand the drought better than in denser formations, which is crucial in the long summers of the south of Spain and Portugal.

F. P. Yes, our research group and others has provided evidence of increase tree vigour in low-density stands, and this affects growth and acorn production, being the result of decreased competition for water resources.

A. G. Can you tell us a bit more about your idea of conceiving a sustainable Dehesa in terms of a mosaic managed in a dynamic way - what Blondel would perhaps refer to as a metaclimacic system?

F. P. As Dehesa is a kind of wood pasture, tree regeneration is inherent to its definition and it can only be achieved by reducing or eliminating livestock impact in some parts of the farm in which natural vegetation is allowed to increase. This is the basis for a mosaic of plots with different grazing intensities.

A. G. Among the possible principles for a more sustainable agriculture are the following two. First, we should try to raise less livestock and go more vegetarian, which would lead to less energy input for the same amount of calories, less methane emissions, etc. Second, we should move towards cultivating perennial plants – including cereal crops – rather than annual ones, that require much more input. Could Dehesas be preserved if we were to follow these two principles? Pasture surfaces would probably have to be reduced and we would probably need to focus more on the shrub stage, experimenting mixes of large oaks and smaller fruit shrubs and bushes such as feijoa, pomegranate, or even small almond or carob trees that are especially drought resistant. Have there been interesting experiments in that direction, transforming Dehesas into a new type of forest gardens somehow?

F. P. Fruit trees have not generally been introduced in dehesas because of soil/water limitations. Among the potential candidates, pistachio trees is probably the best and some parcels have been planted in the last few years. However, our group is leading a project promoting the use of oaks as fruit trees. In fact, oaks have been pruned in a way similar to fruit trees. Certain acorn varieties can be marketed as snack or processed food (including beverage) and in the future this will provide additional income to landowners.

A. G. Have there also been experiments either to use holm oaks for other functions (e.g. edges) or to mix holm oaks in a Dehesa Savannah with other large tree species? I am thinking about Californian oaks, Q. canariensis or even non-oak species such as Carob or Fig trees for instance. One feature of the Dehesa is that it looks like a vulnerable monoculture of oaks that could perhaps gain from some diversification while preserving its general structure. With other large tree species that could stand the same pruning methods, that would have deep roots as well, and fruits that are more edible for humans than acorns, etc.

F. P. Yes, dehesa is a vulnerable open forest, but there it is also the result of soil traits limiting cultivation. The problems here are (1) the high investment needed in the plantations you suggest at a large scale, (2) the chance for farmers to get benefits from traditional practices (though with moderate to low profitability), and (3) the cultural inertia of historically grazing systems.  In addition, any landscape change derived from cultivation should be assessed for its negative effects on biodiversity.

A. G. What would your main advice be to someone in charge of a few hectares of Dehesa who would want to contribute to its preservation through methods that are neither costly, nor heavy to put in place? And is there one pilot project that you would recommend every Dehesa and Montado amateur to visit?

F. P. Dehesas, by definition, are large farms over 50-100 hectares. You cannot manage a few hectares as dehesa in a profitable way unless you introduce a number of complementary uses such as agrotourism and cropping in case the soil is appropriate. Two examples of interesting pilot projects are the Herdade do Freixo do Meio (on the portuguese side) and Casablanca (on the Spanish one).

A. G. Many thanks, Fernando

And if you want some extra references, here are a few: Fernando Pulido's google scholar page, a small film on the Monfrague dehesa with Fernando Pulido,  a great link on the history of Montado (in Portuguese), and two portuguese products made of acorn.

jeudi 2 octobre 2014

Mioritza, poème roumain et... brebis portugaise

(Photo: ballots et brebis au coeur de la Transylvanie, sous la lumière du soir, août 2014)

Quand j'ai demandé à Anca, Irina et Iulia d'être les marraines d'une des brebis du Monte, c'est le nom de Mioritza qui a fini par émerger. Et comme elle vient d'arriver à Campinho ce week-end, voici le poème qui a rendu cette petite brebis si célèbre, dans sa traduction de D. I. Suchianu (que m'a trouvé Cristi). En voici aussi une autre version en français ainsi qu'un petit résumé, une version en roumain, et une autre en anglais. Et puis, vous trouverez ici une comparaison entre trois versions: roumain, anglais et portugais. Histoire triste et belle...

Par un ciel de trêve,
Sur un pan de rêve,
Voici s’en venant
Pentes dévalant,
Voici trois troupeaux
Et trois pastoureaux.
Le premier venant
Du soleil couchant,
L’autre du midi,
L’autre enfin d’ici
Du pays joli
De la Moldavie.
Et les deux premiers
Méchant sort jetaient
Pour occir céans
Au soleil couchant
Le pâtre moldave
Des trois le plus brave,
Le plus riche aussi
En moutons, brebis,
En chevaux vaillants
Et chiens à longue dent.
Or, icelle agnelle,
Blanche jouvencelle,
Voilà que depuis
Trois jours et trois nuits
Guère ne s’est tue
N[i] herbe lui plut.

- Qu’as-[tu], agnelette,
Frisette, bouclette ?
Dis pourquoi depuis
Trois jours et trois nuits
Guère ne te tais
N[i] herbe te plait ?
Malade serais ?

- Bergeret gentil
Pousse tes brebis
Vers le noir sous-bois ;
Tu y trouveras
L’ombre qui te plait
L’herbe qui nous sied.
- Maitre, ô, mon maitre,
Fais ensuite paraitre,
Appelle sur l’heure
Ton chien le meilleur,
Ton chien le plus fier,
Ton chien le plus frère.
Car tes deux amis,
Tes deux ennemis
Voilà qu’ils s’unirent
Et tous deux d’ourdir
De te faire mourir
Au soleil couchant,
Au jour finissant.

- Agnelette chère,
Et un brin sorcière,
Si jamais je dois
Mourir ici-bas
De méchant trépas,
Dis-leur qu’ils m’enterrent
Près de mes sœurs et frères,
Près ma bergerie
Parmi mes brebis.
Du bercail prochain
J’entendrais mes chiens.
Quand m’auront tué
Pose à mon chevet
Fifrelet de pin,
Moult chante chagrin,
Fifrelet d’osselets,
Moult chante enflammé
Fifrelet de frêne,
Moult chante ma peine.
Par leur glas, le vent
Soufflera doucement.
Toutes mes brebis
Acourront ici,
Toutes se serrant
Près de moi-céans,
Ma tombe mouillant
De larmes de sang.

Mais toi, mon agnelle,
A toutes icelles
Point ne parleras
De mort et trépas,
Mais leur diras vrai
Que me mariai,
Que je pris pour femme
Très royale dame,
De douceur profonde,
Fiancée du monde ;
Qu’à mes noces chût
Etoile des nues.
Que le soleil le grand
Et la lune en blanc
Furent mes parrains
Par devers les Saints,
Ormes et érables
Convives de table,
Frênes et sapins
Hôtes de festin,
Les montagnes grises
Mes prélats d’église,
Les oiseaux des cieux
Mes violoneux,
Mille astres là-haut
Cierges et flambeaux…

Mais onc si verras
Si rencontreras
Vieille mère mienne
A sangle de laine,
Larmes répandant
Chez tous s’enquérant,
A tous répétant :
- dites, qui l’a vu,
Qui me l’a connu,
Gentil pastoureau
Mince comme anneau ?
Son visage blanc
Comme ait crémant,
Moustache dorée
Comme épi de blé
Son cheveu si beau,
Comme bleu corbeau,
Ses grands yeux luisants
Comm’mûres des champs,
Toi, agnelle chère,
A icelle mère
Point ne mentiras,
N[i] dure seras,
Mais lui diras vrai
Que me mariai
A fille de Roi
Au pays là-bas
Où les monts s’achèvent
En pays de rêve ;
Mais néant lui dis
Du miracle qui
A mes noces fit
Qu’une étoile à chû
Déchirant les nues ;
Que soleil le grand
Et la lune en blanc
Furent mes parrains
Par devers les saints ;
Ormes et érables
Convives de table,
Frênes et sapins
Hôtes de festin,
Les montagnes grises
Mes prélats d’église
Les oiseaux des cieux
Mes violoneux
Mille astres là-haut
Cierges et flambeaux…