Vaisa Agrucltura - Truly Sustainable Use of Water Within a Nature Reserve in the Algarve

Founded in 1982, VAISA Agricultura Intensiva SA of the RAR Group is probably the single largest watercress production site in mainland Europe, supplying some 1000 tons of raw materials off 19 ha.

In 2009, Vitacress of the RAR Group teamed up with independent hydrogeological consultancy Hidrointel to better understand the impact watercress production was having on the Campina de Faro aquifer system. The successive lowering of groundwater levels in the region indicated a systematic overexploitation that could result in ground water degradation by sea water intrusion into the aquifer. So by 2012, measures were agreed to increase the sustainability of watercress production in the area. These included reducing borehole extraction levels, promoting water recycling, preventing loss of water, the treatment of water, and the monitoring of discharge volumes and water quality.

In order to achieve these goals, VAISA invested in two filtration & UV plants to treat water prior to its re-introduction to watercress beds. This means that borehole extraction rates have now been reduced, as only 40% of total requirements are extracted, while nearly 60% are recycled.  As of October 2016, roughly 70% of all watercress production at VAISA is served through filtered and UV treated waters. This means that each m3 of water in the water recirculation systems is filtered and UV treated every 1.7 days, thus ensuring that water as a potential vehicle for food pathogens is kept in check. The treated water re-enters the watercress production cycle, which means that 1500 m3/h of water are treated, which then flows back into the system without being wasted.

“Each platform and water flow system has been assessed, modified and closed, to ensure better monitoring and control of discharge waters, which means we can now accurately monitor the quality and quantity of water discharged from all our watercress platforms. We also share this data with external partners to promote strong working partnerships in the area,” explains Sérgio Marinho, Farm Manager.

VAISA’s activities have managed to clearly achieve two important UN Sustainable Development Goals, namely “the improvement of water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials,” as well as “the substantial increase of water-use efficiency across all sectors to ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater.” A wetland was also created using native plants, which means that the natural flora now compliments that of the nature reserve Parque Natural do Ria Formosa in which a part of the farm is located.

“We are uniquely positioned to demonstrate how traditional watercress production methods have been overhauled and modified to deliver a sustainable program that addresses the environmental, ethical and economic foundation of our future success,” says Sérgio Marinho.