Spanish Strawberry Growers’ Worries: European Supermarket Boycott

A German NGO is attacking Andalusian greenhouse cultivation which could risk drying up one of the most exceptional wetlands in southern Europe. Local employers are worried.

The Spanish red fruit sector is trembling: what if the tonnes of strawberries, raspberries or blueberries exported to the rest of Europe were the subject of a generalized boycott by European distributors, synonymous with its economic ruin? We are not there yet, but the reputation of these fruits has already been largely damaged and the discredit could very well grow.

At the origin of this panic fear, the campaign led by the German NGO Campact – which has a long arm in terms of consumer awareness – against the Spanish heart of production, in Huelva, Andalusia. There, near the mouth of the Guadalquivir River, on approximately 12,000 hectares, strawberries are mainly produced, 80% of which are exported and account for almost a third of European consumption – in particularly in German and British supermarkets.

On site, this sector employs between 80,000 and 100,000 people – one third of whom are Moroccan immigrants – and alone accounts for 8% of Andalusian GDP. Campact specifically enjoins chains such as Lidl or Edeka to no longer put strawberries from Huelva on their stalls “because of the risk of a disaster of the drying up of one of the most important national parks”. On the outskirts of these hectares of greenhouse crops stretches the park of Donana, one of the most exceptional wetlands in southern Europe and also one of the most protected, declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1994. .

Illegal wells

However, Donana suffers like never before. Under the effect of repeated droughts in recent years, about two thirds of the temporary lagoons have not been flooded since 2013. Through its 120,000 hectares of marshes and dunes, migratory birds, which transit between Europe and the Africa, are five times less numerous than a decade ago.

Last summer, its last large freshwater lagoon disappeared for the first time. In April, the controversy swelled when the Andalusian regional executive, led by the conservatives and supported by the far right, passed a law legalizing some 1,500 additional hectares in the hands of farmers using illegal wells.

The dispute then escalated between, on the one hand, a regional government which says it is “fighting for the bread of thousands of families” and, on the other, a central power and environmental organizations claiming that this legalization will suppose an “unbearable pressure on the park’s aquifer” and therefore his imminent death. “We are not touching Donana. It is the heritage of all Andalusians and all Spaniards, ”responded the head of the socialist government Pedro Sanchez, who will play for his re-election at the end of July.

“Between 2004 and 2014, the share of neighboring irrigated crops grew by 30%”, underlines Eloy Revilla, the director of the park, convinced that this legalization “leaves no hope of survival for this biosphere reserve”. The European Union got involved, threatening Spain with fines of millions of euros if the country was unable to protect this natural heritage “of vital importance”.

Consumer pressures

It was this litigation that prompted Campact to launch a campaign against the Spanish strawberry sector, going so far as to collect tens of thousands of signatures in support of its action. “If even the head of government asks that the strawberry extensions be reduced, what are you waiting for to convince yourself of this? launched the organization on the networks.

On the spot, the strawberry and raspberry growers are opposed on the question of the legalization of the thousand illegal wells, a good part of them fearing that the initiative could seriously harm their exporting interests. Interfresa, the local employers of “red gold”, described the German campaign as “insidious” and “damaging” and demanded to meet, as soon as possible, the distribution chains across the Rhine to dissuade them from remove the Iberian red fruits from the shelves.

Campact’s campaign may be limited, but pressure is increasing against these products, which would contribute to drying up one of the continent’s main wetlands. Consumer pressures are increasing on supermarkets regarding the traceability of this or that fruit. In particular, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), “additional guarantees demonstrating that the products have been watered with legal spring water” are required. At the end of April, in the German daily Der Spiegel, the Spanish Minister for Climate Action Teresa Ribera, a fervent defender of Donana, castigated the too low price of Spanish strawberries for export, given their environmental impact.

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