Recovering the territory for home market agriculture. Lessons from the Douro valley


1 DUYOT, Faculty of Architecture,Technical University of Madrid , Surcos Urbanos
  Corresponding author: (e-mail address)


The local food movement is gathering momentum. By re-localizing food production and connecting farmers and food consumers in the region, it aims to improve the access to healthy food, reducing the impact on the environment and invigorating the local economy (Pothukuchi and Kaufman 2000).  The historical review of the relationships between territorial structures and the agri-food system provides a good basis for seizing the opportunity offered by a renewed interest in local and sustainable food. If we want to reconnect the urban demand for food with its hinterland, we should learn about how the territory was organized in times when local provision of food was the norm. This structural approach aims to overcome the founded criticisim that the supposed benefits of local food rise between academics (Born and Purcel 2006). Therefore this documentr presents how different agrifood systems made use of renewable resources and adapted to local environment constraints, and how the territory has been organized over time to meet the need for food (Simon 2016).

From global trends to the territorial configurarion of the agro food system

The research unfolds in two levels, first we analyse the trends at national scale, identifying the different stages of the nutrition transition, the demand of food associated to each diet and where does this food come from. Afterwards the research scales down into the territorial level, in order to examine how these different nutritional and agro food systems are reflected in the territory.

The territorial anlaysis has been done from the perspective of agroecology, which entails the “application of ecological concepts and principles to the design and of sustainable agroecosystems” (Altieri 1999). To apply these principles, a system of indicators based on demographic intensity, human settlements intensity, land overexploitation intensity and infrastructure intensity was developed and applied to the middle stretch of Douro valley in Spain (2.400 km2).

Contradictions of an agrarian region

This a traditionally agricultural region, which has managed to turn a land product – the wine– into an engine of innovation which has transformed landscapes and structures. Even so, it faces the challenges of uneven development and illustrates the contradictions of the rural world in a globalized context.  By 1982 the Ribera del Duero wine obtained protected designation of origin (PDO), and since then viticulture has expanded considerably. Regional’s economy is partially based on its local production, on the exploitation of endogenous resources, mainly viticulture. Therefore is an example of the sort of strategies that are being enhanced in Europe in its quest to combine territorial cohesion and competitiveness in a globalized world.  (Simon Rojo, 2011).

The region under study faces the challenge of uneven territorial development, characterized by a growing heterogeneity between nodes of development and the rest of the region. At regional scale the territory is more polarized between development nodes and the rest (emptiness). Spreading uses and abandonment are putting landscapes under pressure. The ever-increasing concentration of functions in the nodes results in a growing dependence of the rest of the territory, which remains unable to attract people to settle.

Artificial land areas in the cities analyzed have grown by 49 % between 1990 and 2000 (according to Corine Land Cover data) while population has practically remained the same (only 3 % growth).

Co-relation between nutritional stage, agro food system and territorial structure

After the analysis of the evolution of the region since 1900, it can be concluded that the territory has been organized over time according to three food system models that are in turn linked to different nutritional stages:

  1. The nutritional stage of overcoming malnutrition is related to family agriculture and a territory of proximity, which persists in the studied area until 1950;
  2. The model of mass consumption and overeating, was built on an industrialized agriculture and a polarized territory with unhindered development, which runs until 1985;
  3. Finally, the model of consumer segmentation associated with terciarized agriculture and enclave territories in the context of globalization, which lasts until present time.

During this last stage new alternative models of small-scale territorial reconstruction appear, linked to emerging systems that, based on sustainable food systems, reconnect city and countryside, consumption and production. Actually two trends coexist: one towards hierarchisation and tech-based productivism, and another one towards multifunctionality and peasantization that re-appropriates technical innovations.

Mechanization and agricultural industrialization resulted in the deconstruction of the territory, disintegrating social and ecological structures that previously allowed it to work as a whole. Both should be re-built if we really want to achieve more local agrifood systems.  The adaptation to local conditions taking advantage of local resources is a key element of environmental and social sustainability. Integrating food into urban and regional planning from an agroecological perspective would help reduce the current unsustainability of the food system.


Altieri, M. A. (1999). The ecological role of biodiversity in agroecosystems. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 74(1), 19-31.

Born, B., & Purcell, M. (2006). Avoiding the local trap scale and food systems in planning research. Journal of planning education and research, 26(2), 195-207.

Pothukuchi, K., & Kaufman, J. L. (2000). The food system: A stranger to the planning field. Journal of the American planning association, 66(2), 113-124.

Simon Rojo, M. (2016). La huella en el territorio del sistema agroalimentario (1900-2015). Cuadernos de Investigación Urbanística

Simon Rojo, M. (2012). Integrating periurban agrarian ecosystem services into spatial planning to cope with urban pressure. Laufener Spezialbeiträge 2012. Implementation of Landscape Ecological Knowledge in European Urban Practice