Hundreds turn out in Almería city to demand stricter controls on olive farming
By Richard Torné More than 200 people marched through the streets of Almería city at the weekend to demand a crackdown on water-intensive olive farming in Tabernas.
Protesters claim the Rio Aguas will dry up within five years due to the planting of hundreds of thousands of olive trees in the last decade.
If this were to happen, they say it would speed up the desertification of the area around Sorbas and cause the disappearance of many unique animal and plant species.
The protest was held just days before the International Rights of Nature Tribunal in Bonn, Germany, was due to hear the case.
José María Calaforra, professor of hydrogeology at the university of Almería and one of the organisers of the march, told CA News that the answer lay in imposing stricter controls on crop irrigation, as well as clamping down on illegal water extractions.
“We’re asking for proper planning and for the authorities to abide by water laws – it’s not an odd request,” he said.
Under Spanish law, tap supply takes precedence over crop growing, which in turn comes third behind the needs of the ecosystem.
But the Acuíferos Vivos association claims that the Rio Aguas aquifer is being depleted up to four times faster than it can replenish itself, and that the annual reserves of 5.6 cubic hectometres cannot keep up with the estimated 20 hm3 being extracted.
However, the Madrid government recently admitted that there was no plan of action in place to address the problem, and that the issue had been put on the back burner until 2022 at the earliest.
In response to suggestions both the Junta and central government were ignoring the problem, professor Calaforra said: “They don’t know what to do - they’re just blaming each other.”
He pointed the finger of blame at the large olive oil producers, such as the Carrión family, who he said owned at least 4-5,000 hectares in the area, with production geared for export to the Far East.
Junta farming and fisheries minister Rodrigo Sánchez Haro this week insisted that Almería’s biggest concern was the province’s ‘water deficit’, believing that desalinated water would mitigate the impact of shortages.
He stressed that central government had an obligation to repair the desalination plant in the Cuevas’ district of Villaricos, which has been out of action since 2012.
Speaking to CA News, he said: “We will do what we can to alleviate the problem, but the Government must do its bit.
“Some projects are easy to carry out, such as increasing the size of the desalination plant in Carboneras - that would account for an additional 84 hm3 of water out of the 170 hm3 which are needed.” In response to claims that desalinated water would be too costly, he said there was an urgent need to standardise and lower costs, in line with what is happening in Murcia and Alicante.
Asked what the Junta was doing to clamp down on illegal wells, he said the Junta “was working to control this problem”.
The regional government recently stated the importance of the olive sector to Andalucía’s economy, boasting that more than 80,000 hectares of olive trees have been planted in the last decade, totalling 1.5 million.
Exports have also doubled during that period, and the sector now generates up to 40 per cent of all jobs in agriculture.
However, although the last campaign’s turnover was in excess of €2 billion, the sector still relies on public aid. The Junta recently handed out €29m in subsidies to 43 olive oil firms, ostensibly aimed at developing new products and improving marketing and sales. Another €154m was destined towards ecofarming projects.
Protesters in Almería city holding banners saying ‘they’re stealing our water, they’re stealing our future’ and ‘stop the ecocide of the Rio Aguas’