The damage to the overexploited Doñana aquifer is behind a small army of farmers who for decades have opened one illegal well after another to maintain their strawberry greenhouses, despite the fact that the river nursery closed their extractions. Until now, the sector had protected clandestine deposits, but that complicit silence has been broken and the association of 300 Almonte farmers has abandoned the County Irrigation Platform, which defends the legalization of farmers’ farms without irrigation permits, because he thinks it hurts them. With this movement, the historic unit of the 1,300 producers of the so-called red gold, which in 2021 moved 1,186 million, is broken in Huelva.
This platform –now divided– managed to get the PP, Ciudadanos and Vox to present a bill to the Andalusian Parliament two weeks ago to increase irrigable agricultural land by 1,460 hectares. But the initiative collides with a bitter reality: there is no water for irrigation to grow. The aquifer is below minimum and declared “overexploited” by the Government, the reserves of the swamps at 28% and the prospects of coming rains are very dark. Faced with the current shortage scenario and the one that is coming, the 300 farmers of Almonte have said enough is enough because they see the viability of their greenhouses in danger due to the forthcoming cuts in water rights, by adding 1,460 more hectares to a cake – that of water – increasingly meager.
“The farmers of Almonte consider that this platform in defense of irrigation for a long time does not defend the general interests of all irrigators, but rather the particular interests of a minority,” reads the statement from the Puerta de Doñana farmers’ association, which is supported by the Almonte City Council (governed by the Mesa de Convergencia and PSOE). Almonte farmers own some 4,000 hectares of greenhouses, 52% of the hectares of the Condado de Huelva region – producer of 80% of all Huelva strawberries – and 65% of the land in the region that depends on the river basin. Guadalquivir, which suffers from scarcity compared to that of the Tinto and Odiel rivers.
“The bill is at least inopportune and supposes putting intensive agriculture at war with the natural space and the ecologists, when the strawberry plan [que pretende cambiar la derecha andaluza] It is still in the regularization phase. We still haven’t finished regularizing and they already want more [hectáreas]”, regrets a director of the association who requests anonymity. In the area of Doñana there are 800 hectares of greenhouses pending regularization and obtaining irrigation permits, apart from the 1,460 that are intended to be added to the area’s irrigable agricultural land. The assembly of the association that on Monday afternoon decided to break with the platform was attended by about thirty leaders and positions of irrigation communities.
The Puerta de Doñana farmers’ association, with land in Almonte but also in the towns of Bonares, Lucena del Puerto and Rociana del Condado, has met with leaders of the PP and Vox, and this Wednesday it will do so with the PSOE and on Friday with Citizens. In the meeting with the popular leaders, they conveyed to the farmers’ association that they were not aware that the parliamentary initiative could harm anyone, and that is why they asked for proposals to present amendments as of February 9, when the deadline opens. , according to the dome of the association. Manuel Andrés González, PP parliamentarian who presented the bill, clarifies: “We are open to any initiative that improves the bill, but we will not change the urgent procedure in Parliament at all. Our objective is that the farmers who have historically cultivated these lands can do so again”. A spokeswoman for the Irrigation Platform clarifies: “We are not going to talk about the departure of members, those who have left have to speak, not us.”
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Both the political opposition and the environmental organizations have accused the parties that govern Andalusia and the extreme right of “cheating” the farmers and seeking votes with promises that are impossible to fulfill in this electoral year. However, if that were the objective of the Andalusian right, the shot may have backfired on them.
The 300 Almonte farmers are less than half of the 1,500 agricultural entrepreneurs that the platform brings together, but they own most of the hectares in the region and employ many day laborers from the five towns. In addition, they represent the most populous municipality, Almonte, with 25,000 inhabitants.
The president of the association of irrigation communities of Andalusia (Feragua), Pedro Parias, avoids condemning the bill but highlights its key shortcoming and puts his finger on the sore spot: “This proposal talks about the qualification of the soil but does not talk about of water, because it does not entail the availability of water. It makes no sense to grant a right without having water, because it affects the others who do have it”.
The war for water between the farmers of Doñana has just begun. “It’s like making a paella for eight and having 14 show up to eat,” exemplifies a leader who also asks to preserve his identity. Fear has been established in the region since death threats appeared against farmers who oppose the expansion of irrigation planned by the Platform, which until now represented the entire sector.
Miguel Delibes: “I am disappointed with Moreno”
The renowned biologist and president of the Doñana Participation Council, Miguel Delibes, wrote a letter to the Andalusian president, Juan Manuel Moreno (PP), in early January to ask him to back down on his parliamentary initiative because it broke “the consensus reached” . More than two weeks later, Moreno has not even answered him. “I was waiting for an answer because I wrote to you when it was only a draft [la proposición de ley], because it seemed to me a mistake that should be corrected. I am disappointed because the Participation Council that I chair worked hard to reach a consensus and when there is a serious problem, you have to try to iron it out. It is not very responsible and disappointing to present an alternative that breaks the consensus we had”, explains Delibes.
The former director of the Doñana Biological Station details that in his previous conversations with Moreno, the popular leader has always encouraged him to defend consensus: “He has always told me that Doñana had to be a common goal and that he defended environmental policies” , Add.
Moreno has said from Brussels on Tuesday that he does not expect the European Commission to impose fines for the planned increase in irrigation that contravenes the European court ruling. “I do not see that there is any possibility that there will be sanctions (…). In this matter, intentional dust is being generated from the political point of view, even lacking the truth, ”he said, according to Europa Press. Despite the fact that the proposal foresees the growth of 1,460 hectares of irrigated land by converting them into “irrigable agricultural land”, Moreno defends that irrigation will not be increased due to the nuance that this declaration does not mean that they immediately obtain their water rights, which correspond a posteriori to the Hydrographic Confederation of the Guadalquivir, which depends on the central government.
Apart from Delibes’ letter, the parliamentary initiative of the Andalusian right has caused Unesco to request information from Spain about whether it will affect the reserve, declared a World Heritage Site, and in the same way the European Commission will investigate the effects of the initiative on the biodiversity of Doñana after having denounced Spain before the Court of Justice of the EU and having obtained the sentence of the Spanish State for damaging the aquifer through intensive agriculture and the tourist center of Matalascañas.
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