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Friday, June 24, 2022

Strawberry Farms Threatening Spanish Wetlands

Standing in the middle of a land surrounded by dunes and pine forest, Juan Romero examines the torn ground and then gazes at the dusty horizon.

“It’s dry… it’s really dry,” said the retired teacher in southern Spain’s vast Doana National Park, one of Europe’s largest wetlands threatened by intensive farming.

“At this time of year it should be full of water and flamingos,” said Romero, a member of Save Donana, a group that has been fighting for years to protect the park.

The water supply in the park has declined dramatically, scientists say, due to climate change and the over-draining of water through illegal wells frequented by neighboring strawberry farms.

The situation may soon worsen as the regional government of Andalusia, where Doana is located, has proposed expanding irrigation rights for strawberry farmers near the park.

It is a battle of environmentalists against politicians and farmers, and a proposal to broaden irrigation rights has drawn backlash from the European Union, the United Nations and major European grocery store chains.

Juanzo Carmona, of the local branch of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), said the proposal would regularize about 1,900 hectares (4,700 acres) of berry farmland currently irrigated by illegal wells.

This photo shows a view of the Doana Natural Park on May 20, 2022 in El Rocio, Huelva.

“It will be a disaster for Donana,” he said.

The park, whose diverse ecosystem of lagoons, marshes, forests and dunes spans 100,000 hectares, is on the migratory route of millions of birds each year and is home to many rare species such as the Iberian lynx.

“Donana is a haven for migratory birds. But this ecosystem is threatened,” Romero said.

The driving force behind plans to expand irrigation rights is the Conservative Popular Party (PP), which controls the southern region of Andalusia with the support of the far-right party Vox.

The fate of the plan will be decided after a snap poll in Andalusia on June 19, but the controversial proposal is set to go head-on with both parties riding high in the elections.

Strawberry Pickers Work In A Greenhouse On May 20, 2022 In Ayamonte, Huelva.

Strawberry pickers work in a greenhouse on May 20, 2022 in Ayamonte, Huelva.

‘red gold,

Proponents of the proposal argue that it would help those who were wrongly left out during the previous regularization of farms in the area carried out under the socialist government in 2014.

About 9,000 hectares of farms were regularised, but another 2,000 hectares to be cultivated after 2004 were deemed illegal.

“The plan was badly done. It should have used 2014 as the cut-off date,” said Rafael Segovia, a Vox legislator in Andalusia’s outgoing regional parliament.

Segovia said the proposed amnesty “presents no threat to Donana”, adding that people should take into account the “economic importance of the region”.

This Photo Shows A View Of Doana Natural Park On May 19, 2022 In Ayamonte, Huelva.

This photo shows a view of Doana Natural Park on May 19, 2022 in Ayamonte, Huelva.

Huelva, the drought-prone province where the park is located, produces 300,000 tons of strawberries annually, 90 percent of Spain’s production.

Known locally as “red gold”, strawberry cultivation employs about 100,000 people and accounts for about eight percent of Andalusia’s economic output.

UNESCO, the United Nations cultural agency, has designated the park one of its World Heritage Sites and called for the destruction of illegal farms near Doana.

It warned that the regional government’s plan would have an effect that would be “hard to reverse”.

The European Commission has also weighed in.

It has threatened to impose “heavy fines” if any steps are taken to remove more water from Doana Park, as a European court last year scolded Spain for not protecting its ecosystem.

And about 20 European supermarket chains, including Lidl, Aldi and Sainsbury’s, sent a letter to the regional government urging it to drop the plan.

On May 19, 2022, A Seagull Flies Over The Beach At Doana Natural Park In Matalcanas, Huelva.

On May 19, 2022, a seagull flies over the beach at Doana Natural Park in Matalcanas, Huelva.

‘destroy us’

Consumers may get the impression that all strawberries in Huelva come from illegal farms, said Manuel Delgado, a spokesman for an association that represents about 300 local farms.

“This situation will likely cause a huge reputation problem,” he said.

The group, the Union of Farmers Puerta de Doana, argues that the plan to expand the right to irrigation would “serve only the interests of the minority”.

“Water resources are limited,” said Delgado, who fears that farms will be forced to significantly reduce the amount of land cultivated due to water scarcity.

“It will ruin us,” he said.

Supporters of the scheme, including other large farmers’ unions, dismiss these concerns.

“There is no water problem in Huelva, it is a lie,” said Vox MP Segovia.

He said water could be sent to the province’s farms from the Guadiana River on the border with Portugal, a solution that was dismissed by the WWF as “not sustainable”.

“When it doesn’t rain, it doesn’t rain everywhere,” said WWF’s Carmona, adding Spain should instead rethink its agricultural model.

The spirits are high. Romero said ecologists opposing the plan have received death threats.

“Without radical changes to prevent over-exploitation of water resources, Doana would be a desert,” he said.

This article is republished from – Voa News – Read the – original article.

World Nation News Desk
World Nation News Deskhttps://worldnationnews.com/
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