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Portugal on the verge of becoming one of the world's largest almond producers

National production is sufficient to meet domestic demand, and the sector is increasing its export capacity. The result of this year's campaign represents an increase of 20% compared to 2022.

Portugal could join the ranks of the world's almond producers within four to five years, if the campaigns continue to be as good as this year's. The harvest is expected to reach 20,000 tons, representing an increase of around 20% on last year's figure. The 2023 harvest is expected to reach 20,000 tons of almond kernels, which represents an increase of around 20% in relation to last year's harvest, estimates the executive director of Portugal Nuts - Associação de Promoção de Frutos Secos, speaking to DN/Dinheiro Vivo.

António Saraiva says that the almond trees planted in the EDIA - Empresa de Desenvolvimento e Infraestruturas do Alqueva (Alqueva Development and Infrastructure Company) area alone will contribute around 8,000 tons of almond kernels to the total national harvest. "The average age of the trees there is four years. So they're young. Since an almond tree goes into production in its third year, the fourth year is still growing - and they progress until they reach maturity - there's a lot of potential here for us to grow," he said.

With the growing capacity of the almond trees in that area and with the rest of the national almond groves in full production - with a few exceptions in the Algarve, where the trees are older - there are enough almonds for national consumption and also for export.

"The quantities we produce are capable of satisfying national demand. The growth of the sector has been extraordinary and we are increasing our capacity to export," says António Saraiva. Although he knows that selling is always difficult and that in the future this will be a challenge for the sector, the head of Portugal Nuts also explains that the country has the benefit of being next to the biggest importers and exporters of almonds, in Spain.

"We have the advantage of having operators here in Portugal who are Spanish. And they are already producing almonds here because the conditions we have are better than those they find in their country," he says. And he explains that several operators from the neighboring country come to Portugal to buy almonds because they are very close to their processing plants and have access to varieties that they are used to in Spain.

Although we still have little weight in the world market, which is led by the United States with 78% of production, António Saraiva believes that the national almond will make it into the top four, just after Spain, which is in third place. "Last year we had 1% of world production, we're still not in the average of the last five years, because we don't have a great track record, but we're going to consolidate that position," he assured, pointing out that our country already has areas with orchards that produce more efficiently. "We already use the latest technology," he said.

Water is needed

But to grow almonds - or any other crop - you need water. And António Saraiva believes that the strategic interest of this sector has yet to be understood in Portugal. "These are valuable crops, with potential in the ground and the investment has been made. There's a lot of money invested in this, with the industry coming here to create jobs," he says, calling for support and conditions for producers. "A critical point is the availability of irrigation water," he points out.

Stressing that the issue now is not the availability of land, but the availability of water, he calls for greater allocations for almond trees, especially in EDIA's intervention zone in the Alentejo. "What we want from EDIA is to know if, in the future, we will have the same right to water as other crops." This is because, as he says, the allocations for almonds are not in balance with what has been done for other crops.

"It's not even close to the optimum of what the crop needs, while all the other crops have been given an allocation that allows them to produce at higher levels than the average of the most developed countries." And although he recognizes that, in the case of almonds, even though the allocation was increased because it was a dry year - an increase that was made for all crops - he believes that it was insufficient in relation to the actual need for water.

Appeal for protection

On the other hand, António Saraiva is also calling on the Ministry of Agriculture to speed up authorizations for the use of new synthetic or biological plant protection products that help fight pests and/or diseases. "If there are none of these interferences, if water is not a limitation and if we manage to solve this problem, which we have at the moment, I think the conditions are in place for us to make progress."

And he recalls that many of the almond producers are young farmers who have decided to dedicate their lives to this crop, which occupies around 65,000 hectares in our country.

Source: Dinheiro Vivo, 10 December 2023


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