Donana's future matters to the Zurich consumer Listen to this article

Antonia Pérez, an agricultural engineer who runs a 100-hectare berry farm on Isla Cristina (Huelva), was extremely concerned last week when she noticed that her client, Migros, a Swiss supermarket chain, was among 23 multinationals that had bought and sold products in Andalusian. Has asked the President, Juan Manuel Moreno (PP), to stop his plan to increase irrigation in the surroundings of Doana. “The prospect of cutting all overseas purchases of strawberries is real. European supermarket auditors come and ask us: ‘What’s happening in Huelva?’ Their consumers want to make sure they make a good purchase and they are concerned about sustainability with how it is grown. Politicians have not measured the results well,” he says.

The most emblematic protected area in Spain has lost almost all of its wetlands due to massive aquifer plundering through illegal wells during the past decade. And the same thing worries the Zurich consumer, who is unaware that Pérez’s farm is next to Portugal, about 100 kilometers from the reserve and has caused no damage to its over-exploited aquifer, but if it is delicious. Who will stop buying Spanish strawberries if the fruit is associated with it. An environmental problem that harms the migration of birds living in the Swiss country.

Letter Supermarkets and marketers, with more than 40,000 points of sale in the world, keep the sector in suspense, which last year exported 80% of its 450,000 tons of berries to the continent at about 1,200 million. More than 80,000 people participate in the Strawberry Campaign in this Andalusian province. If the blood reaches the river and the doors of European establishments are closed to red fruits, the damage to Huelva’s economy would be catastrophic. Andalusia led the export to the continent with 1,404 million (11% of the total) in 2021, but there are other thriving regions such as the Valencian Community (181 million, 10% of the total) or Catalonia (84 million, 2.6%). According to official figures.

“The supermarket has told us this week in a radical way: ‘Since you have a farm in illegal areas near Donana, I will stop buying from you.’ They also require an updated water availability certificate or their own concession. Of course, we expected their response,” says Manuel Delgado, spokesman for the Puerta de Doana Association, which brings together 350 farmers with legitimate farms in Almonte and who called on PP, Ciudadanos and Vox to avoid greater evils. asked to withdraw his bill. ,

warning of migraine, With 630 supermarkets in Switzerland, it is clear: “We are transparent, we want to produce and sell food, and are respectful of nature, so we attest to our impact on sustainability. The area around Doana needs to be protected for the environment and to maintain many of its functions. Otherwise, the consequences for the region will be harsh”, warned a spokesperson for the chain. Perez sells almost 100% of his 2,500 tons of berries per year to the Swiss country, hence his concern.

Manuel Delgado, spokesman for the Puerta de Doana Association, in Almonte (Huelva) on Friday.
Manuel Delgado, spokesman for the Puerta de Doana Association, in Almonte (Huelva) on Friday.Paco Puentes (Country)

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As a result of the plan to expand irrigation drawn up by the Andalusian authority, the traditional unity of the peasantry is broken. Another 1,400 hectares will be added to the existing 11,700 hectares of crops – which the environmental organization WWF extends to 1,900, and with the extreme drought that has plagued the Guadalquivir Basin, water restrictions that affect crops already in the marshes. in the western part of the park over the next few years. “The bill would mean that surface water would be left to the new” [agricultores]And if the aquifer is overexploited, the water shortage will be upon us”, complains Francisco Marin, a 150-hectare farmer in Almonte who sells all his produce to the United Kingdom and Germany, the main consumer of the red fruit .

In the latter country, the giant Edeca, with 11,000 stores, is also blunt: “With its bill, the Andalusian government is jeopardizing the very existence of the Doana National Park, but also the future of local agriculture. The falling groundwater level will make it difficult for the farmers to sustain their business. As such, we fear that without sustainable water management, southern Spain and its ecosystems will dry out from climate change. In addition, Edeka will lose a very important sector that provides fruits and vegetables. For all these reasons, we support the petition to the board coordinated by WWF”, warned sources in the firm. Edeka, like the Scandinavian chain Coop Trading (4,500 supermarkets) and Swiss Coop (950 stores), has received several complaints from its consumers after information about the Spanish nature reserve’s dubious future appeared in the media in those countries.

WWF is working in Donana, along with these chains, to verify the good environmental practices of the strawberry farmers who supply them, and has issued a letter addressed to the regional executive. The Andalusian president acknowledged that the letter “could cause serious harm to thousands of families in Huelva and Andalusia”, but the next day he wanted to reduce the tone of alarm generated by denying the largest: “I did not receive any letters from the supermarket.” Is. Chen but from an environmental organization,” he said.

Farmers promoting the bill, brought together on stage in defense of irrigation, have demanded dialogue from supermarket chains, as they believe they have been “betrayed”. “Only environmentalists have been heard, the propaganda is reaching them and we have requested a meeting with those responsible for these chains,” its president, Romualdo Macias, said in a statement. Citizen deputy Julio Díaz, who promotes legal change, also echoes this alleged deception of multinationals: “There is a lot of misinformation out there about Donana. I believe not all supermarkets react by getting drunk at the same time, by the Spanish government on the one hand and the WWF on the other”. This Tuesday begins the presence of experts for legal reform in the Andalusian parliament. Among those cited was Minister for Ecological Transitions Teresa Ribera, who, however, would not attend the chamber.

Box with strawberries in a greenhouse on Isla Cristina.
Box with strawberries in a greenhouse on Isla Cristina. Paco Puentes (Country)

Alejandro Marin is a quality controller for a British fruit importer and believes that sustainability is increasing demand for European supermarkets: “Supermarkets as well as social initiatives, work for fertiliser, food and water waste, are exploited more and more. is becoming more important. Doana is a media zone for the United Kingdom, just like Mar Manor, where the death toll of the fish is visible. The British are very fond of ornithology and care about Donana because all the birds of their country pass through it”, he says.

British NGO Ethical Consumer receives complaints about the production of Andalusian fruits: “It is great to see supermarkets cooperating to pressure the Andalusian government and protect the environment in Huelva, but we have to labor Many reports have also been received about The abuse through seasonal workers and supermarkets has yet to respond”, criticizes the NGO’s magazine editor Jasmine Owens.

An example of some companies closing doors was last year by Danish conglomerate Salling, which stopped buying goods from a Huelva supplier after a journalistic investigation was published about poor working conditions and employers without prior notice. Refused to receive visits. From the Danish firm to verify these terms, confirms a spokesperson for the group with 1,700 stores for brands such as Neto and Bilka in Denmark, Poland and Germany.

The European supermarket’s notice to the Andalusian board has no resonance at the moment in chains in Spain, with the exception of the German Aldi and Lidl, with a thousand establishments in the country. Spanish food chains do not hire external remote sensing companies nor do they send their personnel to verify that the farm’s expansion does not exceed official irrigation permits, unlike foreign ones. The Eurobarometer shows that Spaniards’ awareness of environmental problems is lower than in Central Europe, the United Kingdom or Scandinavia. Both the Huelva Chamber of Commerce and the Interprofessional Association Interfresa declined to comment for this report.

The pressure on the Andalusian president from the agri-food industry will continue in the coming weeks, and after supermarkets, in large companies. Platform for Sustainable Juice — made up of 46 firms like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo — signing a letter asking for it to be rectified. Like Javier Arizmendi, director of operations for the Valencian company Zeria, who criticizes: “Politics cannot be put before science. The damage can be irreversible and it is bread for today and hunger for tomorrow. Water will run out in five years, it will become barren, parks will be destroyed and no one will have any business. This is nonsense”.

The European supermarket sought an answer from Moreno after informing him: “We believe he will stay away from the proposed amendments.” Now Swedish chain Valora, with 2,700 points of sale, adds: “Appropriate measures must be adopted to ensure the long-term sustainability of water and soil in Doana. If this does not happen, Andalusia’s reputation and development as a supplier region will be at risk.”

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