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In Spain, the war against "drought strawberries" worries Andalusian producers

While Spain is in the grip of a historic drought, a real water war threatens Spanish strawberry growers.

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In Spain, the war against "drought strawberries" worries Andalusian producers

While Spain is in the grip of a historic drought, a real water war threatens Spanish strawberry growers. Politicians, the European Union, NGOs and supermarkets are campaigning against the illegal use of blue gold in Andalusia, particularly in the province of Huelva.

In this place, the land is arid and the earth is cracking. If the Doñana Natural Park once looked like marshes favorable to migratory birds, it now looks like a desert. “Doñana is in a critical state (...) For two years, it hardly rained. However, farmers continue to draw huge quantities of water from groundwater, ”denounces Felipe Fuentelsaz, park manager for WWF Spain, to AFP.

Behind this drought phenomenon, Spanish strawberry producers are directly blamed. The Huelva region represents 98% of red fruit production in Spain and 30% in the European Union. It is also the world's leading exporter of strawberries, supplying mainly German and British supermarkets. Problem: the huge Spanish farms around Doñana Park are accused of illegally pumping water from groundwater, and therefore drying up the reserve.

This debate invites itself to the heart of the regional parliament. He is currently working on a bill that could legalize 1,500 hectares of intensive red fruit cultivation in the region. Farmers could thus irrigate their plantations with water drawn from the edges of the natural park, reinforcing the phenomenon of drought. On the one hand, the People's Party (PP) in power in the region and the extreme right (Vox) support this measure. On the other, the left-wing government of President Pedro Sanchez denounces the “political negationism” of its adversaries.

The European Union has also joined in the imbroglio. It directly threatens Spain with fines running into millions of euros if the country is unable to protect its cultural heritage, described as “of vital importance”. A German NGO, Campact, adds its grain of salt by launching a petition for consumers to boycott “drought strawberries”. At present, more than 160,000 people have already signed this petition.

The association goes further and also asks German supermarkets to remove Andalusian strawberries from their stalls "because the illegal theft of water threatens to destroy the environment". For the interprofessional association of strawberries, Interfresa, it is a campaign “pernicious and harmful to the strawberry and soft fruit industry”. Strawberries from Huelva in fact employ 120,000 people, directly and indirectly, and represent 8% of Andalusian GDP.

If the producers concerned continue their activity, they are still worried about next year. Negotiations of stocks and their prices for 2024 are currently taking place but, already, reluctance is appearing. According to the daily El País, the WWF organization in Germany has noticed that some supermarkets are asking suppliers to issue them certificates that prove that the water used for growing fruit is not drawn illegally.

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