Allegrini 2018

The decortication ritual, symbol of rebirth, has livened up the cork groves in Portugal

In the groves of Amorim Cork, bark stripping is fundamental for economic and environmental sustainability in the southern Mediterranean areas

The cyclical ritual, year after year, is a symbol of renewal and rebirth. This year, 2020, it takes on an even more profound and symbolic meaning. The decortication process reminds us that in spite of everything that is happening, nature has continued along its course. It is actually rebirth, which vitalizes the cork oaks in Portugal owned by Amorim Cork, the largest producer of cork stoppers in the world, and in Italy led by Carlos Veloso dos Santos.
At the beginning of spring and summer, the sap is found positioned between the stem of the plant and its bark, and therefore, it is possible to remove it easily, using a skillful move that can only be done by expert hands. Decortication, or bark stripping, is one of the highest paid agricultural jobs in the world, precisely for this reason, because very few people have the necessary skills and manual expertise, making it an economically essential activity for the communities of southern Portugal and Spain. It is a sustainable practice, in environmental terms as well. Decortication offers a considerable contribution against the desertification of the forests of northern Africa and southern Europe, because cork oak is the only plant able to survive in poor soil and very little water.

It is also a natural way to optimize energy and Amorim has further contributed to this by backing an avant-garde drip irrigation system, which will improve the supply of water resources, while at the same time it will allow a plant to grow to adulthood in 12 years (compared to 36 years, previously). Reforestation will also become easier by replacing the eucalyptus trees, which at the moment are predominant – and are highly flammable - with the fire-retardant cork oaks, for the most part around the populated areas, in order to protect the people who live near the forests. Amorim's projects aim to engage investors who will contribute to the planting of 50.000 hectares of new irrigated forests, which will then represent +30% increase in production. Currently, the density is spontaneous and totals 50 plants per hectare. The goal of Amorim’s intensive cultivation intervention focuses on reaching 600 plants per hectare, and then transplanting half of them, i.e., 300, to another area.
Cultivating oak cork trees is becoming more and more strategic around the entire Mediterranean basin, whose scrub represents one of the 36 bio diversity sanctuaries located on the planet. It is a marvelous phenomenon that stays healthy thanks to the 2.2 million hectares of cork forest, which allow various animal and vegetable species to proliferate and it absorbs up to 76 million tons of CO2 per year. Decortication actually gives plants the possibility to breathe, but even more so, on a global level, the whole world. Further, we must take into account that the Amorim cork stopper chain, from decortication to finishing, is a very delicate procedure. Today, it has been scientifically certified a negative carbon footprint (by the two topmost companies Ernst & Young and PWC), which gives even more value to the process of making a cork. As a matter of fact, it has been shown that a single piece of cork retains between 309 and 562 g of CO2. This means that due to the compensation effect, the use of a cork stopper also reduces the environmental impact of the other supply chains in which it is involved. For example, in oenology, the carbon footprint of glass bottles that release on average between 300 and 500 g of CO2 during production, depending on their weight, could even be canceled out, if cork is chosen for closures.

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