Doctor Gerd Zabel is a farmer and botanist. He is German, aged 69 and lives in Silves. He is the owner of “Quinta da Figueirinha”, an organic farm with 30 hectares of land, and olive, fig, almond and carob trees. He is experimenting with less flammable trees, as part of a project financed by the EU. The Quinta has drought-resistant agricultural and forest plants to preserve the pasture and control erosion, and fire-resistant trees, shrubs and ground cover to prevent forest fires. The choice of plants is essential, and requires a series of precautions and information about the species, varieties and origins. Characteristics such as an extensive root system – for soil improvement – and the capacity for fixing nitrates are also very important.
After living in the Sahel region in Africa, and in the south of Portugal, Zabel knows how important it is to improve the knowledge of the varieties of tree and species of shrub appropriate for combating desertification. Experiments through small, themed, botanical gardens, which can serve as demonstration gardens for students and professionals, prove that this is possible.
ECO123: How can we put an end to forest fires in Portugal?
Gerd Zabel: I’ve been living in Portugal for 31 years, and I have witnessed many fires. To me, it is very clear that the essential thing, more than direct fire-fighting with fire-fighters and helicopters, is forest prevention against fires. There are a number of possible ways of proceeding: conducting a survey and analysis of all the different trees growing in Portugal and the Algarve. There are many parks and botanical gardens with over 1,500 species of trees and shrubs. At the moment, only about 40 trees are known, and they are normally replanted after the fires. We need to establish small botanical or agroforestry gardens where we can introduce trees that do not burn. We have species that can withstand very high temperatures – from 600 and 800 to 1,000 degrees Celsius. It is very important to select and import these unknown trees and introduce them in different points in the Algarve and in the country. To see which are the trees that bring improvements to each region. For example, the cypress family of trees are plants that do not catch fire easily, and can be beneficial for the prevention of forest fires. Then we need to construct a network of plantations. Here at the Quinta, for example, I have trees that are between 600 and 1,000 years old: carob trees and olive trees. There are very beautiful trees…