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Cows and farmers at risk in Portugal’s Azores

Cows and farmers at risk in Portugal’s Azores
Cows and farmers at risk in Portugal’s Azores


The Azores, the Portuguese group of islands located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, has experienced seismic activity since March 19. More than 14,000 small earthquakes hit the island.

Dairy farmers on the volcanic island of São Jorge are worried.

São Jorge has lush and green farmland used by the numerous cows that move around the island and feed on the grass. Cows produce fresh milk that is used to make traditional cheese, and is the main source of money for many families. Milk production makes up 70% to 80% of the island’s economy.

The small earthquakes, called tremors, have increased in strength to 3.3 on the Richter scale over the past few days. Tremors can indicate a larger earthquake or even a volcanic eruption. CIVISA monitors earthquake and volcanic activity. They have increased their volcanic activity level to level 4, which is the second highest.

This means that there is a strong possibility that the island will experience a volcanic eruption for the first time since 1808.

A worker carries a wheel of São Jorge cheese at the Unikigo Cheese Factory on São Jorge Island

Despite the tremors, farmers continue to milk more than 200 cows per day. Roy Bettencourt is a 47-year-old farmer. He says he doesn’t have time to think about earthquakes.

“There are earthquakes but we have to go out every day. We cannot abandon the animals,” Bettencourt says.

Antonio Aguiar is the head of the factory where Bettencourt sells his milk. He says farmers will be the last to leave the island in the event of a natural disaster.

“They (the farmers) keep working because that’s where they earn their income,” Aguiar said.

Some residents of the island have already left out of fear of a possible volcanic eruption. This has resulted in a shortage of workers in all three cheese factories in São Jorge.

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

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

A man opens the gate to his milking farm on the island of São Jorge

There is also concern about volcanic ash and its impact on farmland. Finally, cows show signs of fatigue due to tremors, Aguiar says. The Azores government said it would help move the animals to safe places if there was more activity.

Antonio Jorge is another dairy farmer in his forties. He says he is afraid, but he has no plans now to leave the island.

He said, “…I will not turn my back on what I have here and I will get off the island.”

I’m Faith Pirlo.

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


The words in this story

seismic – describe the waves or vibrations that move through the earth during earthquakes

Size – n. large quantity or volume

eruption – n. Blast or blast process

Abandon the fifth. To leave something or something behind without care

income – n. Money is usually from work

Ash – n. Remnants of materials or particles from a volcanic eruption fall from the sky and settle on the ground

stress – adj. Stress 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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