Down to Earth

Organic farming 'supersized': An imperfect solution for the planet?


This week Down to Earth is in southern Spain, amidst the world's largest greenhouse complex. In just a few years, Spain has become the undisputed leader of organic farming in Europe. But is intensive organic farming a real solution for the planet? We find out more.


In just a few years, Spain has become the undisputed leader of organic farming in Europe. The Almeria province is the heart of the continent’s intensive agriculture and has seen the proportion of organic farming explode over the last decade from 1.4 percent to 10.3 percent.

Tomatoes, cucumbers and sweet peppers have become staples of organic farming in Almeria. Around 80 percent of this organic produce is exported elsewhere in Europe, where consumers hail the label as a symbol of sustainability.

But is organic farming produced intensively a real solution for the planet? We take a closer look.


Jan van der Blom, Coexphal, Association of Horticultural Producers and Exporters in Almeria

The final conclusion of the report concerning ecological horticulture in Almeria was that it is far from sustainable, since a lot of plastic waste ends up in the environment. The organisation of horticultural companies APROA has protested against this negative image.

FRANCE 24 showed dramatic pictures of a landscape full of plastic debris. APROA claims that these images are totally misleading. Manager Luis Fernández: "This was recorded at Rambla Morales on September 27. Two weeks earlier, on September 12, several dozen hectares of greenhouses, as well as an entire camping site, were destroyed and washed away by an exceptional flood exactly at this spot. Presenting this to illustrate plastic dumping is a mistake, it’s a natural disaster."

APROA has quantified the volume of plastic waste. Most of it comes from the greenhouse covers that are replaced every four years. This is a high volume of homogeneous residue, very useful for recycling purposes. Growers receive 10 cents per kg for this old plastic. Other types of plastic are more difficult to recycle. These are usually processed together with municipal residues, generating energy through incineration. It's estimated that between 70 and 80 percent of the total plastic residues are recycled, serving as raw material for the production of new plastic products.

The sector in Almeria is fully aware of the need to recycle in order to survive. Enormous progress has been made, although it still must improve. APROA works closely with the administration to avoid and penalise the dumping of waste. They operate a special telephone number (+34 687 500 400) where people can report illegal dumping.

Fernández: "With our concentration of greenhouses, we are in a perfect position to reach 100 percent recycling. Nevertheless, as long as only a tiny fraction of the plastic is blown away by the wind or washed away by the river, the entire sector will have a severe image problem."

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning