SIRU 2.0 Case: The Muga Valley Project
"Living in harmony with nature"
The 4 returns in Catalonia
The Muga Valley Proejct is a project driven by Stef van Dongen and his team, in collaboration with multiple stakeholders. The uniqueness of The Muga Valley project relies in the high level of ambition and the (extremely) fast pace at which actors are operating. Together they aim to regenerate 100.000 hectares of forest ecosystem, bringing back life, rural economy and securing future water supplies of the Costa Brava North.
Company: The Muga valley project
pioneersofourtime.com External link, opens in new window.
Case author: Guènola Nonet Opens in new window.
What they do:
Pioneers of our Time aims to develop a network of professional change makers that devote their lifework to creating large scale positive impact. A safe space was developed for individuals to network and reconnect to wild nature. Pioneers of our time adopted the Muga valley project as a demonstration model.
Based at The Home External link, opens in new window., Stef van Dongen, a Dutch social entrepreneur fell in love with forests as a child. His childhood dream was to work in forest protection. Motivated by his love for nature, for the mountains and also by his awareness of the urgency to regenerate soils and rural economies, Stef decided to invest his time, resources and energy in Catalonia. In collaboration with other private investors, Stef acquired 300hectares of Pyrenees forest in 2018, including three shepherd houses. In less than four years, a home was created to host impact investors and change makers, and most importantly, a coalition of private forest owners was launched.
The Muga Valley project (hosted by The Home)
To create a healthy landscape, retore soil and water cycles and reverse desertification, The Muga Valley is a partnership of 100k hectares where the Valley stakeholders work on a 20years timeline.The project is inspired by the CommonLand’s four returns:
- Return of inspiration
- Social return
- Natural return
- Financial return.
Mulga valley project anticipates the following returns:
1. Inspirational return - creating awareness & participation as well as a sense of belonging, proving that a regenerative rural economy is financially possible. Several projects are being tested: the farm, hosting 1000 chickens and selling eggs to the Muga Valley. The Muga Valley also wants to promote eco tourism and education. The Muga Valley campus was designed for collaboration between academics, innovators, entrepreneurs and funders
2. Social return - bringing back social and cultural life and jobs to the valley, improving networks and social services. 2022 saw the first Muga Valley festival in Albanya where local art, music and dances were exhibited.
3. Natural return - regenerate and nurture critical eco-system functions like water, healthy soil and biodiversity, using regenerative practices. The Muga river is one of the focal points of the current project with 30 km of the Muga river sitting under The Muga Valley management to create a healthy river ecosystem, to protect the river, and to create regenerative ecosystems and social awareness.
An additional project has been launched to bring biodiversity and help regulate natural cycles: the vultures’ restaurant. Vultures were successfully brought back to the region and in less than 3 years four species of vulture have now returned and they have recently had chicks. Vultures play an essential role in biodiversity regulation, helping the eco system get rid of viruses and diseases amongst the wild animals.
Extensive work is done in the forests to protect trees (such as oak trees) that have suffered from invasive pine trees. Furthermore, turtles and other species are being brought back to the land. This is the result of a collaboration with biologists led by Jordi Sargatal and the forest team and multiple stakeholders such as the hunters providing dead animals.
4. Financial return - Attract regenerative businesses, investment and funding to the valley and prevent loss of wealth and assets through fire and water shortage. Forests are being modified to create open spaces to prevent fires from spreading. Regenerative agroforestry farm is currently developed as a laboratory for the Valley.
A call for impact investors was designed by Stef and private investments were received to support the four returns.
Most notable achievements over the course of 2021-2022:
18 direct jobs and 20 indirect jobs provided
- Regenerative Agro-forestry Farm as Ecological Zone • Growth from 250 to 400 hectares under management • Start Finca Vall de la Muga (Chickens, Cows and Foresty Services) • Start of wild life projects (Vulture Restaurant, re-introduction of native rabbits, creating open spaces in forest.
- Real Estate, Nature Tourism and Co-Living • Pre-opening The Home in June 2022 • Finish 2 phases of major renovation works of retreat center
- Muga Valley Campus • first collaboration with universities: ESADE, UAB, UG on research and education • Testing various regenerative business models in innovation lab (eggs, cows, forestry services, forest products, essential oils, truffle, mushrooms) • Selected Biochar, Wood fiber, Biodiversity Credits as potential game changers for The Valley
- Muga Valley Partnership • Muga Valley declared as Innovation Zone in Catalunya by the State • Foundation POOT has been offered management of 30km of Muga river by water authorities • Taken board position in largest forestry association in Catalunya • Taken Vice President position in national association of regenerative land owners • Version 1.0 of baseline study of The Muga Valley in place • First collaborations with 26 municipalities and identifying needs • First projects with Ministry of Agriculture and Environment and Climate Action • First pilot Muga Valley Festival executed
Key Achievements by Year
- 2017: acquisition of 300hectares
- 2018: Start renovating the shepherd houses while connecting with local communities, the closest three villages
- 2019-2020-2021: pilot projects during COVID period, shepherd houses renovation, off grid energy, eco-friendly architecture renovation, support of local community, launch of a model farm, the vulture restaurant is created (2020) in partnership with all local stakeholders.
- 2022: Official opening of The Home, the first Muga Valley vulture chicks are born (unseen in 100 years), four species of vulture that are threatened with extinction are back to the Valley.
- November 25, 2022: creation of Associó propietats per a la conservació de la natura (Association of the Landowners for the Conservation of Nature, Spain). The Association facilitates dialogue and collaboration for landowners to take an active role in the transition to local rural regenerative economies.
- Stef van Dongen takes on a board role in the local association of forest owners, uniting landowners of 15.000hectares.
Ambitions and future next steps:
- Regenerative Farm as wildlife corridor • Agroforestry Farm and ecological zone: ~2500 hectares under management • Expand activities Finca Vall de la Muga: Farm to Table • Expand Biodiversity Projects (e.g. black vultures and other species)
- Real Estate for Nature Tourism and Co-Living • Retreat center opened • Expand real estate activities in The Valley
- Muga Valley Campus • The campus operational with 3-5 universities having long-term projects and collaborations running • Regular events, courses and conferences • 1-2 innovation projects in business validation progress • Initiate and participate in national and international networks to learn and promote our vision
- Muga Valley Partnership • Become a vehicle for a regenerative economy in The Valley • Official collaboration with 26 villages and key stakeholders in the making to promote and develop regenerative rural economic development from source to sea • Fire prevention plan, water management plan for The Valley in the making • Joint Forest Management plans for strategic ecological and high fire risk zones in place • Management plan for management of water quality and biodiversity of Muga River in the making • Preparing the process (theory-U) to develop vision 2040 for The Valley and action plan • Yearly Muga Valley Festival in multiple villages tested