Discordant strawberries in Spain

The province of Huelva in Andalusia produces 300,000 tonnes of strawberries annually, accounting for 90% of Spain's production.
The province of Huelva in Andalusia produces 300,000 tonnes of strawberries annually, which is 90% of Spain’s production (JORGE GUERRERO / AFP).

“Scandals”, “lie”, “disasters” … In Andalusia, the strawberry center of Spain, a project to normalize illegal exploitation is a farmer and elected official worried about the future of Doñana Park. , Tearing environmental activists. A nature reserve in the process of desertification.

“It’s dry … it’s really dry.” Standing in the middle of a vast land surrounded by dunes and pine forests, Juan Romero examines the cracked ground and the dusty horizon. “At this time of the year, it should be flooded and filled with flamingos,” he was frustrated.

A member of the Save Doñana platform, this retired man has fought for years to defend this park in southern Spain. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to thousands of species of flora and fauna in a 100,000 hectare lagoon. And the forest.

“Doñana is a paradise for migratory birds, but this ecosystem is threatened,” explains Sexagenarian in a rocky voice, “global warming” of groundwater for irrigating vast strawberry fields located a few kilometers away. Condemn the effects of “Chemicalization” and “Overfishing”. Further north.

Dunes in the Doñana Nature Park in Ayamonte, Huelva, May 20, 2022
May 20, 2022, Sand dunes of Doñana Natural Park in Ayamonte, Huelva (JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)

According to environmentalists, this phenomenon could be exacerbated in the near future. Problem: A bill aimed at increasing irrigation rights in the region, defended by the People’s Party (right) in power in Andalusia, with the support of the far-right Vox party.

“According to our calculations,” this initiative “may lead to a normalization of about 1,900 hectares” of red fruit crops that are currently irrigated “by secret wells,” said Juan Jocarmona, an environmental NGO WWF. Blame “For Doñana, it will be a disaster!”

“Red gold”

The project, which is opposed by the central government of socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, is currently suspended due to an early election in Andalusia on June 19.

But the People’s Party, which leads the polls, and Vox, which is booming in Spain, have promised to revive it if they win.

This normalization “does not pose a danger to Doñana. The only goal is to repair fraud against farmers” left behind “by the division of the previous agricultural area,” said Vox, head of the area. One Rafael Segovia says.

The province of Huelva in Andalusia produces 300,000 tonnes of strawberries annually, accounting for 90% of Spain's production.
The province of Huelva in Andalusia produces 300,000 tonnes of strawberries annually, which is 90% of Spain’s production (JORGE GUERRERO / AFP).

In 2014, the Andalusian government, then led by the left, restored the order of red fruit cultivation after years of anarchy, supported by the proliferation of secret irrigation drilling holes. I wanted to do it.

In this regard, 9,000 hectares have been normalized. However, another 2,000 grown after 2004 were classified as illegal. “This plan wasn’t well-developed. We should have chosen 2014 as the deadline,” Rafael Segovia worried and insisted on “the economic importance of this sector.”

Huelva, Andalusia, where Donyana is located, is Europe’s first exporter of red fruits, producing 300,000 tons of strawberries each year, 90% of Spain’s production. According to the Fresh Elba Federation, this “red gold” employs up to 100,000 people and generates about 8% of the region’s GDP.


Doñana Nature Park in Ayamonte, Huelva Province, May 20, 2022
Doñana Natural Park (JORGE GUERRERO / AFP) in Ayamonte, Huelva Province, May 20, 2022

At this standoff, environmentalists can rely on important support like UNESCO. Organizations that have sought to dismantle illegal exploitation for two years have warned against normalization, whose effects are “difficult to reverse.”

The same concern on the part of Brussels, which shook the threat of economic sanctions against Spain in early February-already identified a year ago by European justice for failing to meet Donagna’s obligations on water management in the region.

Even more unusual, about 20 European supermarket chains, including major Spanish strawberry buyers Lidl, Aldi and Sainsbury’s, have told the Andalusian government that they “share concerns” with environmental activists. I’m asking you to give up.

Mobilization that plagues the sector. By convincing consumers that “all strawberries grown are illegal” in Welba, “this situation is likely to cause major reputation problems,” said a spokesman for the farmers’ union Puerta de Doñana. , Manuel Delgado laments.

The association, which brings together 300 farms, has decided to separate it from other farmers and opposes the illegal farm normalization desired by Vox and PP, who have been accused of serving “the specific interests of the minority.” I decided that.

“Water resources are limited,” Delgado added. He fears that legitimate farms will be forced to significantly reduce their area due to lack of sufficient water resources. “For us, it would be ruin,” he claims.

Death threat

Faced with this avalanche of criticism, project proponents evoke “unfounded horror.” “There is no water problem in Huelva. It’s a lie,” slices Rafael Segovia enough to bring water from the Guadiana River on the Portuguese border to solve the peasant’s problem.

A solution considered infeasible by WWF. “This type of solution is not sustainable. Whenever there is a shortage of rain, it is scarce,” said the region of Spain, which has been chronically damaged over the years. Juanjo Carmona recalls that he needs to “rethink the agricultural model.” Drought.

What will happen to the final decision of the Andalusian local authorities? In the question from AFP, neither the People’s Party nor the farmers’ union in favor of the project wanted to speak.

“The situation is currently in great conflict” between the project’s defenders and the destroyer, Juan Romero confesses, reporting the “threat of murder” received by environmental activists.

In front of him, the heron approaches by gliding before disappearing behind the dunes. “Without drastic changes to curb the abuse of water resources, Doñana would be a desert,” he sighed.