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Cows, Farmers at Risk in Portugal's Azores


Cows leave from a mechanical milking facility, near Velas, on Sao Jorge Island, Azores, Portugal, March 28, 2022. (REUTERS/Pedro Nunes)
Cows, Farmers at Risk in Portugal's Azores
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The Azores, the Portuguese group of islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, has seen seismic activity since March 19th. More than 14,000 small earthquakes have hit the island.

The dairy farmers on the volcanic island of Sao Jorge are worried.

Sao Jorge has fertile, green farmland that is used by the many cows that move around the island eating grass. The cows produce fresh milk that is used for traditional cheese, the main source of money for many families. Milk production is 70 percent to 80 percent of the island’s economy.

The small earthquakes, called tremors, have increased in strength to a magnitude of 3.3 over the past few days. The tremors could signal a greater earthquake or even a volcanic eruption. CIVISA watches for earthquake and volcanic activity. They increased the volcanic activity level to Level 4, the second highest.

This means that there is a strong chance that the island could see its first eruption since 1808.

Worker holds a wheel of Sao Jorge cheese at Uniqueijo cheese factory, on Sao Jorge Island
Worker holds a wheel of Sao Jorge cheese at Uniqueijo cheese factory, on Sao Jorge Island

Despite the tremors, farmers continue to milk over 200 cows every day. Rui Bettencourt is a 47-year-old farmer. He says that he does not have time to think about the earthquakes.

“There are earthquakes but we have to go out every day. We can't abandon the animals," says Bettencourt.

Antonio Aguiar is the president of the factory where Bettencourt sells his milk. He says that the farmers will be the last to leave the island if a natural disaster happens.

"They (farmers) continue to work because this is where they earn their income," said Aguiar.

Some people of the island have already left because they are afraid of a possible eruption. This has led to shortages of workers in all three of Sao Jorge’s cheese factories.

If there are not enough workers to process the milk, farmers will make less money. The agricultural leader of the government said they would help with financial support for farmers who cannot sell their milk.

Aguiar says that farmers here and around the world are already struggling with rising fuel and animal feed prices due to the Russian war in Ukraine. A natural disaster would make the situation more difficult.

Man opens his farm gate to milk the cows on Sao Jorge island
Man opens his farm gate to milk the cows on Sao Jorge island

There is also a concern over volcanic ash and its effect on farmland. And lastly, the cows are showing signs of stress due to the tremors, says Aguiar. The government of the Azores said it would help move the animals to safe places if there is more activity.

Antonio Jorge is another dairy farmer in his 40s. He says that he is scared, but he has no plans right now to leave the island.

"… I'm not going to turn my back on what I have here and walk off the island," he said.

I’m Faith Pirlo.

Catarina Demony and Guillermo Martinez reported this story for Reuters. Faith Pirlo adapted it for VOA Learning English.

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Words in This Story

seismicadj. describing the waves or vibrations that move through the earth during earthquakes

magnituden. a great amount or size

eruptionn. the process of bursting or exploding

abandon –v. to leave something or something behind without care

incomen. money typically made from working

ashn. leftover material or particles from a volcanic eruption that fall from the sky and settle on the ground

stress –adj. mental pressure or anxiety

What do you think of the earthquake activity in the Azores? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.

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