The Malagueño avocado leads to the region of Axarquía on the verge of desertification

The heat of summer in Malaga is suffocating, that is why the subtropical farmers of the Axarquía - as the East of the province - look at the country with concer

The Malagueño avocado leads to the region of Axarquía on the verge of desertification

The heat of summer in Malaga is suffocating, that is why the subtropical farmers of the Axarquía - as the East of the province - look at the country with concern. The warm microclimate that favors its crops also punishes them with lack of rain and reduced water resources, which 32 years ago only supplied less profitable farms. The transformation took place from 1989 thanks to the approval of the Guaro Plan, which decreed the conversion to irrigation of some 8,900 hectares and promoted the development of avocados and mangoes in a region that a new drought is experiencing today.

Axarquía is found in "severe shortage" of water, which means that there are no sufficient water resources to meet the demands provided for in hydrological plans. The Decree of Drought, approved on June 15, 2021, establishes that the guaranteed irrigation demand is only 50% the first year of drought and 25% the second, which is greatly concerned about farmers. "The situation is very serious, the one who does not have water in August and September has been dismissed from the avocado and the tree, it may also be," says José Ricardo Campos, president of the Central Board of Southern Users of the Guaro, which confirms the Start of water cuts to five communities of irrigators.

In Axarquía there is no water: neither in its rivers, nor in the wells that supply part of the plantations or in the reservoir of the viñuela, built in 1986 to transform the Axarquía into the subtropical Vergel that is currently. The volume of water embestead of the viñuela has been noticeably descended since 2013 and as of August 10, 2021 registered its minimum level of the last ten years: 43,23 HM3, that is, 26% of its capacity. What can be happening?

The rainfall has descended in the last three years, but to a lesser extent that the water embellished, and the successive hydrological plans of the hydrographic demarcation of the Andalusian Mediterranean basins, in which the Axarquía is encompassed, have provided a sustained increase of the surface Regable in the region and an increase in water consumption despite the scarce water resources existing in the area, decreased by climate change. According to the Hydrological Plan 2021-2027, the watered surface would increase by 7% and the water consumed by 23% between 2015 and 2027, that is, 14.12 HM3 would be consumed more than the year in the Axarquía region.

The debate around these water consumption of subtropical and their evolution is served. Gena-ecologists in alert action of a "water collapse" if the expansion of irrigation into the Axarquía is not slowed down and the water that is granted is controlled. "The administration gives a water grant to the irrigated communities and is unhended. But in the communities there are many people who are not even legalized, so water is being granted to people who should not have it and are consuming more than the account "Affirms Rafael Yus, president of the Association.

On the other hand, the irrigators defend themselves that they are watering with less water by the modernization of the irrigation and the cuts of the drought, and consider that the vineyard does not recharge the water it should. "In those years that did the calculations would rain more and the return would be higher, but today the swamp does not have the annual return that agriculture needs," explains Fields.

A small part of the irrigated consumption comes from the rivers, which in this basin have by nature high estiaje in summer, but for years they are permanently dried. The 2009-2015 Hydrological Plan already detected that the eight rivers in the area presented a bad state due to failure failures due to extractions for supply and, above all, for irrigation, and alerted desertification processes. Which coincides with what is detected by the Junta de Andalucía on the risk map of desertification, where the Axarquía is qualified as an area with "very active" desertification processes.

In addition, the agricultural pollution that present both the groundwater masses of the area and the superficial accelerates desertification. "The erosion process, together with soil pollution due to the inadequate use of fertilizer and phytosanitary, constitute the main factors involved in the process of soil desertification in Andalusia," says the Environmental Sustainability Report of the Development Program Rural of Andalusia 2014-2020 Prepared by the Red2Red consultancy.

For Iñaki Hormaza, CSIC researcher at the Subtropical and Mediterranean Horticulture Institute, the solution to this critical situation goes by dimensioning the hectares of avocado and any other cultivation of the area as a function of available water, "not upside down: first plantar And then ask for water. " Hormaza considers that the risk of desertification is not as much as the risk of an excess of water use "and that more hectares are ranging from which can be irrigated with water available."

The first step for the subtropical plantation in the area, the Guaro Plan, lacked this vision. Approved by Royal Decree in 1989, the plan established as a "national interest" the transformation to irrigation of the crops of Axarquía and explained that the "privileged" climate would allow the harvest of subtropical products "of high quality", at that time limited by The lack of water. Beyond the territorial delimitation of the plan, it was not established the maximum hectares that could be dedicated to this crop and left for the final work plans of each operation the definitive adjustment of the regible surfaces and, therefore, the definitive setting of water Necessary.

32 years later, the number of hectares dedicated to subtropical cultivation in the province has grown exponentially, as has made its production. An increase that is mainly due to the increase in avocados cultivation. Although the trend is clear, it is difficult to know exactly how many hectares of avocado and other subtropical are currently in the region of Axarquía and in the province of Málaga.

According to the data of the Yearbook of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Map), between 1989 and 2019, the hectares of avocados holdings have increased by 91%. This, in turn, has been accompanied by an increase in production, which in 2019 reached 47,900 tons of avocado, 233% more than in 1989.

But the ecologists suspect this figure. A topographic work carried out by environmentalists in action estimated that the hectares dedicated to subtropical cultivation amounted to 12,989 in 2017. In turn, the survey on surfaces and crop yields (ESYRCE) of the map, determined that the cultivation of subtropical in the Same year was 12,828 hectares, although we must bear in mind that this study is a sampling survey that has a margin of error of at least 7.7%. In spite of this, both data contrast with the 7,247 hectares of subtropical - without having the handle- that determines the year yearbook for the same year.

Despite this, in which all statistics coincide is in the boom in the production of avocados to the detriment of other subtropical. This increase is due to the profitability generated by this fruit thanks to the high European demand. "Avocado is a large economic support for the farmer, because it is sold well" Reflects Belén Rodríguez, Farmera de Artecongustus. This makes many farmers betting on this crop and that the public administration sets the view on innovation projects that improve their productivity.

A success that has the danger of projecting back to water shortages. For this reason, some farmers opt for mixed crops that, in the words of Belén Rodríguez, "avoid the erosion of the soil" and "allow the Earth to retain more water." For the farmer, "avocado in monoculture has no future in the long term, because it depends on resources that we do not have". In contrast, "if we use this type of crops in a conscious way, treating complexity and diversity intelligently, we will recover the organic matter of the soil and we will make a sustainable management of avocado."

Updated Date: 18 August 2021, 20:18

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