Blueberries for Europe Portugal Mortgages Its Future for Present-Day Agricultural Profits

The berry market has transformed Portugal as plantations have sprung up in recent years. Conditions for workers are problematic and an already dry region is quickly using up its water supplies.
By Jan Petter and Gonçalo Fonseca (Photos) in São Teotónio, Portugal
Global Societies
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Berries all the way to the horizon: Harvest workers at the largest blueberry farm in Portugal

Berries all the way to the horizon: Harvest workers at the largest blueberry farm in Portugal

Foto: Gonçalo Fonseca / DER SPIEGEL
Farm manager João Rosado. "We're fighting for survival."

Farm manager João Rosado. "We're fighting for survival."

Foto: Gonçalo Fonseca / DER SPIEGEL
Alentejo is the poorest region in Portugal.

Alentejo is the poorest region in Portugal.

Foto: Gonçalo Fonseca / DER SPIEGEL
Suraj cooking dinner with his housemate Akash. A total of 18 people live in the run-down house.

Suraj cooking dinner with his housemate Akash. A total of 18 people live in the run-down house.

Foto: Gonçalo Fonseca / DER SPIEGEL
Suraj and his housemates relax after work on the outskirts of São Teotónio. Two thirds of the town's residents are thought to be migrant workers.

Suraj and his housemates relax after work on the outskirts of São Teotónio. Two thirds of the town's residents are thought to be migrant workers.

Foto: Gonçalo Fonseca / DER SPIEGEL
For many of the workers, Sundays are the only free day in the week. They use it for doing laundry, shopping and playing football.

For many of the workers, Sundays are the only free day in the week. They use it for doing laundry, shopping and playing football.

Foto: Gonçalo Fonseca / DER SPIEGEL
Yubraj Magar is one of the few who has escaped the fields. He helps others transfer money back to their families at home. Business is good, he says.

Yubraj Magar is one of the few who has escaped the fields. He helps others transfer money back to their families at home. Business is good, he says.

Foto: Gonçalo Fonseca / DER SPIEGEL
Logofruits got started in 2016, but now grows berries for export on 370 acres of land.

Logofruits got started in 2016, but now grows berries for export on 370 acres of land.

Foto: Gonçalo Fonseca / DER SPIEGEL
The municipality of Odemira is vast, but it only has about 15 residents per square kilometer.

The municipality of Odemira is vast, but it only has about 15 residents per square kilometer.

Foto: Gonçalo Fonseca / DER SPIEGEL
The Santa Clara reservoir is drying up. Some 90 percent of the water is used for agriculture, but it is rapidly emptying out.

The Santa Clara reservoir is drying up. Some 90 percent of the water is used for agriculture, but it is rapidly emptying out.

Foto: Gonçalo Fonseca / DER SPIEGEL
Francisco Pacheco and his neighbors lost their water rights over night and can no longer water their gardens.

Francisco Pacheco and his neighbors lost their water rights over night and can no longer water their gardens.

Foto: Gonçalo Fonseca / DER SPIEGEL
So far, only residents and small gardeners have seen their water cut off.

So far, only residents and small gardeners have seen their water cut off.

Foto: Gonçalo Fonseca / DER SPIEGEL
Environmentalist Sara Serrão others from Juntos pelo Sudoeste are trying to save the local nature preserve.

Environmentalist Sara Serrão others from Juntos pelo Sudoeste are trying to save the local nature preserve.

Foto: Gonçalo Fonseca / DER SPIEGEL
João Rosado is planning on building a third plantation once the pandemic has come to an end.

João Rosado is planning on building a third plantation once the pandemic has come to an end.

Foto: Gonçalo Fonseca / DER SPIEGEL

This piece is part of the Global Societies series. The project runs for three years and is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.