Hun­dreds turn out in Almería city to de­mand stricter con­trols on olive farm­ing

Costa Almería News - - News -

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’

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