The natural capital approach as a tool to highlight the contribution of artisanal salt pans to the generation of shared value for nature and society

With the aim of highlighting the important contribution made by traditional salt pans to the generation of shared value for nature, society and the business fabric, and to halt the decline of the cultural and natural heritage of the natural and protected areas they occupy, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (UICN-Med) and SEO/BirdLife (partner in Spain of BirdLife International), have joined forces to organise a training and participatory workshop on the application of the natural capital approach in artisan saltworks.

Artisanal salt pans generate landscapes with unique characteristics due to their natural values. Their commitment to sustainable production in places of special importance for the conservation of biodiversity makes them key sites for the reproduction and rest of a multitude of birds and other species of fauna and flora. They also play a fundamental role in local development due to their cultural, heritage, historical, social and identity-related interest. However, the abandonment of this artisanal practice is leading to the transformation and deterioration of these precious ecosystems.

To support the traditional salt sector in recovering its important role in nature conservation and rural development, during the workshop “Natural capital in artisanal salt works” the participants discovered how the natural capital approach can be a very effective tool to highlight the role of artisanal salt works in preserving the cultural and traditional values they treasure and the attributes of artisanal salt. 

The event, funded by MAVA Foundation and organized with the collaboration of Ecoacsa Reserva de Biodiversidad and Everis NTT Data as facilitators, and Fondo para la Recuperación de las Marismas Salineras (Salarte) and Martinete Consultoría Ambiental y Ecoturismo, took place in person at the Casa de los Toruños (Puerto de Santa María, Cádiz) and was broadcast via streaming on SEO/BirdLife’s Youtube channel.

This event also served to create synergies with the Medartsal project, which seeks to revalue the artisanal salt sector in Mediterranean countries.

The audience consisted of artisanal salt producers, representatives of public bodies, academia, catering, hospitality, organic tourism, marketing of organic and gourmet products, organic landscaping and restoration, NGOs and conservation associations.

"The main problems facing the salt industry. Among them, he listed "the abandonment of economic activities related to salt production and aquaculture, the need to make compatible the preservation and improvement of the existing biodiversity in the environment in order to adequately recover the sheet of water and climate change."

Jesús Pinilla, environmental biologist at the Andalusian Delegation of SEO/BirdLife, stressed that economic activities are essential to attract biodiversity to the Bahía de Cádiz Natural Park.

"The artisanal salt pans represent a meeting point between the conservation of birds, given that numerous migratory species depend on the state of the salt pans to rest and obtain food during their journey, and human well-being, that of the families that live off these resources and that of society as a whole, which benefits from the preservation of the cultural, historical and natural values that they harbour."

Having just returned from the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille (France), Arnau Teixidor, Ecosystem Programme Officer at IUCN-Med,  stressed that the issues on the workshop agenda had been at the forefront of the international conclave. 

"There was a lot of talk about natural capital, nature-based solutions, how to find mechanisms to promote conservation and the new paradigms on the relationship between people and nature and the necessary frameworks to promote balance in that relationship. The organisation of the workshop is very timely to bring these concepts, which are sometimes complicated to understand, ground and, to promote synergies between key economic and conservation actors."

David Álvarez, executive director of Ecoacsa, acted as workshop facilitator during the day and kicked off the theoretical and practical session by explaining the concepts of natural capital and ecosystem services and the theory of capitals, according to which:

"Natural capital sustains the rest of the capitals without which the economy could not function (human, social, intellectual, manufactured, and financial). "However, we are used to working with all but natural capital. But key efforts have recently been made to change this with the adoption this year by the United Nations of a new framework - the System of Environmental Economic Accounting-Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA EA) - to integrate natural capital considerations into countries' economic and environmental accounts, so that these aspects will be considered in measuring GDP."

Jesús Carrasco, head of Natural Capital and Biodiversity Projects at Everis Ntt Data, explained in detail the concept of the six capitals and safe operating space, and worked on its application to the salt sector through a practical dynamic with the participants.

"Measuring the level of stress experienced by the space in which a salt works helps to understand how the space will trend over time in each of the pressures considered when measuring sustainability and how the salt activity contributes to them (positively or negatively). By conducting this analysis, it can be determined whether the business model is operating safely with respect to the ecosystem's capacity to absorb its activity - i.e., whether it is operating within a safe operating space.”

Successful examples of sustainable production, biodiversity conservation and profitability

Through the presentation of the cases of  Valle Salado de Añana, Flor de Sal d’Es Trenc, Riet Vell and LIFE Olivares Vivos, the professionals who participated in the workshop learned about other examples of sustainable production in natural and protected environments that successfully combine the sustainability of a business model based on the promotion of biodiversity and the care of ecosystems with economic profitability.

"Valle Salado de Añana does not compete with industrial salt pans in quantity, but in quality and variety and that it has become an economic engine of the area (located 30 km from Vitoria-Gasteiz), given that it not only provides work for tourist guides, but also for packers, salt pan owners, rural accommodation, restaurants.... Moreover, it is a particularly important enclave for the conservation of endemic species of high value, such as the parthenogenetic artemia, essential for the sustainability of the ecosystem, and the Fundación Valle Salado is already able to generate 41% of its budget through the marketing of salt, guided tours and other activities it promotes."

Laura Calvo, Director of Image and Communication at Flor de Sal d’Es Trenc, stressed the importance of preserving biodiversity and the natural environment, given that the health of the ecosystem and its functions depend on its traditional salt activity.

"The collaborations we maintain with the Grupo Ornitológico Balear (GOB), CSIC, IMEDEA, AEMET and the UIB are of enormous value to us, since thanks to them we have set up several flamingo ringing projects, built resting areas for birds, GPS tracking of stilts and avocets to obtain information on wintering areas outside the island and other actions to closely monitor the changes that are recorded in the salt flats and how they affect the environment".

"The conservation of birds and a large part of biodiversity in Europe today depends on the proper management of rural areas. The rural estate of Riet Vell is visited every year by between 4000-5000 people and has become a privileged place for birdwatching, volunteering and environmental education. After the success of the organic rice harvest, in 2003 we started to make pasta with organic durum wheat from the Ebro steppes, which are very valuable ecosystems for the cultivation of this cereal and the conservation of biodiversity (e.g., Iberian sage-grouse). In 2015, we started working with pulses in collaboration with the Fundación Global Nature, promoting the sale of chickpeas, lentils and other pulses from organic farmers in Castilla-La Mancha".

"The model proposed by Olivares Vivos aims to solve the problems of the olive grove by taking advantage of all its natural capital and integrating biodiversity into the producers' profit and loss account. We seek to recover the biodiversity of the olive grove and convert it into economic benefits. In agriculture, there is no profitability without sustainability. Our strategic approach goes beyond farmers' farms and encompasses the entire agri-food chain, aimed at connecting producers and consumers, which is the same approach as the EU's Farm to Fork Strategy. The model consists of designing and scientifically certifying olive production compatible with biodiversity conservation and positioning it in the market through a certification seal as a profitable added value in the oil market."

The workshop concluded with a participatory dynamic that sought to identify what characteristics a product must meet to be attractive from the consumer’s point of view and with thanks from Juan Martín, president of Salarte, to the organisers, facilitators and speakers for their involvement and the knowledge and enriching experiences shared during the day and, in particular, to the participating salt sector “for their commitment and their example of environmental economy linked to natural capital that provide added value not only to the product, but also to the territory.”

Morning session video

Afternoon session video

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