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Spanish Secrets: Supermarket Savagery

…Field upon field of abandoned trees stood as a testament to a crippling disease sweeping across the province. Rotting fruit hung from unkempt trees which were surrounded by overgrown weeds and more rotting fruit. For the time being this devastating illness is confined to isolated groves, but it is spreading fast. The Costa Blanca is just one more agricultural area suffering the ravages of supermarket savagery…

Craig Briggs tells of a disaster affecting Spain’s orange growers.

With a slight sense of regret, we headed off towards Madrid. Our destination was the town of Javea on the Mediterranean coast. I’d arranged a type of working holiday exchange – my labours in exchange for a two week stay in a coastal villa, rent free. Proof once again that the ancient system of barter can be far more rewarding than the daily toil to gather promissory notes.

Our reluctance to leave home in Galicia, Spain’s most north-westerly province, was the result of an extended period of clement weather. Before, during and after Easter we’d enjoyed warm, sunny days and mild nights. There was a real sense that spring was quickly melting into the long, hot days of summer. Over the same period, the Mediterranean coast had uncharacteristically experienced wet, showery weather.

The drive across Spain passed without incident. The light cloud cover had briefly lifted as we travelled through Madrid but once again thickened as we approached the coastal city of Valencia. Here the motorway descends steeply from the high Spanish plains to the Mediterranean Sea. Tiny spots of rain exploded on the windscreen as we continued our lengthy decent.

The damp, overcast weather transformed the vibrant landscape into a flat, colourless canvas. Brightly-painted houses appeared drab and tired, even the regimented rows of orange groves looked cold and sad. Shades of grey washed onto dreary, lifeless beaches.

The vivid turquoise tones of the dreamy Mediterranean were replaced by an undulating blanket of grey. It was an image far more reminiscent of a North Sea swell off the cliffs at Robin Hood’s Bay, than the sun-kissed coast of Latino dreams.

Within a day of our arrival the scenery had miraculously transformed. A freshening wind brushed aside the clouds and bright sunshine breathed new life into the earth. Dazzling colours shouted their praise from every location. Damp dreary buildings projected intense lustre’s. The deep-blue sky reflected in the sea as joyous white horses skipped along the breaking waves.

Familiarity was restored, but what of the orange groves?

Field upon field of abandoned trees stood as a testament to a crippling disease sweeping across the province. Rotting fruit hung from unkempt trees which were surrounded by overgrown weeds and more rotting fruit. For the time being this devastating illness is confined to isolated groves, but it is spreading fast. The Costa Blanca is just one more agricultural area suffering the ravages of supermarket savagery.

Since 1995 the price paid to Valencia’s orange growers has fallen in real terms by 36 percent. Whilst production and transport costs have risen by 45 percent over that period, the price per kilo has fallen from 16 cents then, to less than 10 cents today. Large citrus buyers dictate prices and see their profits rise whilst small orange growers face financial hardship and destruction.

Today small orange growers are paying the price but when all the groves have withered and died who will be tomorrow’s victims?

email address
craigandmel@msn.com

Copyright © 2007 Craig Briggs


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