Cork industry in Portugal
Portugal located in the south western part of Europe is the premier producer of cork in the world and it accounts for about 50% of the world’s total cork production and about 720,000 hectares of land in Portugal is dedicated to the cultivation of cork oak trees from where cork is obtained. The steadily rising graph of the Portuguese economy has immense contributions from the Portuguese cork industry with their cork constituting 70% of export trade in recent times. It is to be noted that the growth of the cork oak tree is greatly influenced by environmental factors and the Mediterranean type climate of Portugal is conducive to its growth. Well distributed and plenty of rainfall together with presence of extensive sunshine, mild winter weather conditions and suitable soil compositions aid its growth in the country and the life span of cork oak trees extends to around 150 to 200 years. Algarve produces the superior quality in Portugal and certain species are also produced in the Alentejo region as well and it is in the central and southern parts that corks of the best quality are grown.
The Portuguese cork industry is highly developed and the versatility of cork as a substance together its ecological properties and the ability to recycle the material has facilitated its growth. Cork is used in performing multifarious functions like for building and architectural purposes and in floors, in the automobile, military and space industries, in footwear and leather goods, as chemical components in pharmaceutical industries and most importantly as cork stoppers used as closures for wine bottles. In Portugal, which is known for its wines and vineyards, it is doubtless that cork stoppers are extremely useful for domestic purposes. Cork wools are also used in mattresses and cushions.
It has been estimated that a whopping 16% of the total foreign income in Portugal is accumulated from the export of cork. The main importers of Portuguese cork are Germany, UK and USA.