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Latest update : 2009-12-16

When Spain's vineyards turn to dust bowl

Fifteen years ago, the rolling slopes of Andalusia were covered in vines, producing the grapes used in the sweet Moscatel wine. But little by little farmers have left the region. Like more than 30% of the land in Spain, Axarquia is under threat from desertification.

FRANCE 24's correspondent in Madrid, Adeline Percept, explains how desertification is blighting the Spanish landscape, while rural economy expert Amanda Cheesley, live from Brussels, takes a look at the threat to other parts of the continent.


Fifteen years ago, vines used to grow on the plains of the mountains in Andalusia, producing the grapes used in the sweet Moscatel wine. But little by little farmers have left the region. Like more than 30% of the land in Spain, Axarquia is under threat from desertification.

José Antonio Marin-Marin is one of the few people to continue growing crops here. “The landscape changes a little bit more every day. Even the almond and olive trees are completely dry! It still isn’t raining, and we’re in winter!”, he says.

Since the summer it has only rained twice here – 35 millimetres in total. The lack of water has made José-Antonio change his crops: “An avocado tree needs 100 litres of water a day in summer. And at the moment, since it doesn’t rain, I have to continue watering them! So, in the field, I’ve changed the crops. We plant young mango trees. When they are grown, we will cut the avocado trees down. Simply because mango trees guzzle a lot less water.”

José Antonio is obliged to grow more tropical fruits and to grow other crops in greenhouses. Here, he’s come to the same conclusion as Greenpeace’s scientists: climate change also helps parasites to breed. “Because of the lack of water and the excessive heat, the tuta parasite from Peru breeds very well – the whole year – in southern Spain,” he says.

Two hundred kilometres away, the Tabernas Desert has the highest temperatures in Europe. In the foothills of those plateaus, almost all the arable land has been abandoned. “The desert is moving north, that’s clear,” says Paco Gonzalez, a farmer. “The land here used to be farmed. Today, there’s a bit of livestock farming but no crops.”

Andalusia was the first Spanish region to introduce a plan in 2007 to tackle climate change. Gloria Guzman is one of the scientists in charge of evaluating the effects of climate change. “There are a lot of regions where we’ve seen a lot of social tension over water in the last few years. In Andalusia, there’s already not enough water for everyone! Do you think that the Pyrenees are going to halt this process? No! After Spain and Portugal, these problems are going to spread to the rest of Europe, that’s clear,” she says.

Thanks to the use of natural fertilisers among other techniques, Gloria’s team has shown how olive growers can reduce the fossil energy they use by 80%. But according to her, the region’s efforts will be useless without the introduction of radical measures at a world level.

By Adeline PERCEPT



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