The uncertain economic future of La Palma after the volcano

In the port of Tazacorte, banana workers rest on the terrace of a bar in front of a beer, after having been working all morning. They have just returned in the boat that the Navy has put for them; and that He has distributed them among the banana plantations within the exclusion zone of the volcano. It is their “bus-boat”, as they call it, but it has recently started to work, and the farms have not irrigated for too long.

These workers meet on the terrace with the fishermen in the area, who have barely gone out to fish in recent months, and now rush the last days of December to prepare their boats before the new year begins, the fishing quota is renewed and they can go to sea again. There are no good times in the Aridane ValleyAlthough at least the volcano has finally fallen silent, and everyone is preparing to open a new stage in the region and on the island.

La Palma’s economy, especially on its western side, revolves around the banana, which is by far the main livelihood of its inhabitants. But the eruption has wreaked havoc on this crop, since it has been primed with the banana zone par excellence; the most productive and the most profitable of the whole island.

10% of these lands have been buried by lava, and there little can be done, at least in the short and medium term. But without reaching that extreme, Almost a third of the total area of ​​banana trees, more than 1,000 hectares of the approximately 3,000 that there are, already consider this season lost due to the lack of irrigation and the destruction of the facilities due to the accumulation of ash. Their owners are now fighting to get them back so that they can return to production as soon as possible, although in the best of cases they estimate that it will take at least two years.

“They finally let us water it very recently”, bill Olga, who is sitting on the terrace of the port bar, next to a soda can, after disembarking from the Navy launch. This worker lives in El Remo, and in order to get to Tazacorte and tend to her plantation, she now has to go around half the island, on an eternal journey along what is known as the Cumbre highway. As he says, the lack of water has caused “the death of the mother of the plant”, which is how the pineapple from which bananas are born is known, and now “we have to wait and see if the son bursts to to be able to have another pineapple in two years. “

Cruz, A colleague from El Remo who is next to her, considers that in order to face those two years of waiting “they will need help.” “Here everyone asks that we not be abandoned, because we really need it”, he assures.

In this sense, Manuel Redondo, technical secretary of COAG Canarias, also believes that the affected producers of the Aridane Valley “will only get ahead if they receive aid during this time.” “If we are able to maintain the income of these people during these two years, and there are also compensations for those affected by the ashes, those areas should be maintained.” Although it makes it clear that it is necessary to help “not only to the producers, but to the entire chain”, as transporters and suppliers of plant and fertilizers.

It will be more difficult to recover the areas devoured by the lava, if it is possible to do so. It is not yet clear if the flows will be declared a protected area, but even if they were declassified, adapting them for cultivation would be extremely difficult. “Sorribar in the coastal area, in the fajana is easier, but another question is to do it in spaces where there are 15 meters high, which is very complicated,” explains Redondo.

“It would be desirable for this destroyed area to be recovered for cultivation, either there or in another area. That should be the first line of work. Perhaps what can be done is to try to recover protected areas in some area so that they can be used for cultivation. But even that is complicated, because there are not so many on La Palma “, believes the technical secretary of COAG Canarias, who advocates” studying it within a broader reconstruction plan “.

Europlanet is one of the six production organizations that make up the Plátano de Canarias brand, and is made up of 750 partners, most of them from La Palma. Here, unlike Tenerife -the other great banana island-, production is fragmented into hundreds of small owners. “We are going to work so that everything that can be recovered from the land that has been damaged by the volcano. We hope that it can be planted again on the lava, but if it cannot, we will have to go to another area,” he says. your communication manager, Elisa martinez.

“The idea is that no one is left behind, both farmers, as sharecroppers, as transporters, as workers …”, he continues, and emphasizes that now “they need the help of the administration to be able to escape these months and return to produce, to recover the productive capacity of the island, and with it the jobs “.

Banana workers are taken to their plantations in a Navy launch. EFE / UME / LUISMI ORTIZ

The blackest time for fishermen

In the bar in the port of Tazacorte, banana workers mingle and share sorrows with the fishermen, who are also going through the worst moment in memory on the island. “The volcano was one more insult that was added to what we were already going through. Almost our entire fleet lives off tuna, and last year with the onset of the pandemic prices plummeted … It was a terrible year, which was followed by this one, with very bad sales, and to that is added the quotas that they imposed on us of the species that is caught the most: the prickly pear “, he points out. Cesar Camacho, Senior patron of the fishermen’s guild of this town, which has the most important fleet on the island. “Tuna” is the name that the species receives in the Canary Islands Thunnus obesus, a fish that usually approaches the shore, which makes it easier for small fishermen to catch it.

The volcano has hurt them, but what “broke them down the axis” was the distribution of quotas. As he explains, this year they have divided the catches of the Canarian fleet between large and artisanal tuna vessels, which are the smallest, as is the case. “To the big ones, about 18 boats, they gave 2,700 tons. And to the 230 boats that we are artisan, they gave us only 200 tons,” he compares.

With quotas, in his opinion, so meager, what they had left was shore fishing, but La Palma is not the best island for this type of activity, because being young it is also very steep and does not have a continental shelf, Unlike others like Tenerife, Gran Canaria or La Gomera. “Many boats before the volcano were already stopped, because there was no place to go, “says the captain of the Tazacorte fishermen, who explains that tuna boats are dangerous to fish very close to the coast due to their poor maneuverability.

In addition, these waters were very rich in live bait -mainly, mackerel and chicharro-, necessary for artisanal fishing for tuna. But the fish disappeared right off the bat. “It is the first time that has happened. We do not know why, because we are not scientists, but we relate it to the volcano,” he says.

At the same time, once the volcanic eruption began, the exclusion zone was created and further south it was no longer worth going to them, because there is a marine reserve there, and then another zone of winds that make fishing very difficult. “We would only have the north of the island, but it is not profitable either,” he values.

Now that the volcanic eruption has concluded, the expectations of the fishermen of Tazacorte are to “wait and see if the quotas improve.” “If this improvement is not achieved, in addition to another fishing alternative that can complement the tuna fishery, such as the black saber, I see it quite difficult for the fishing activity to continue on La Palma, because the fleet endures thanks to the boom years, but all that is ending, “warns César Camacho.

Image of Puerto Naos evacuated by the volcano and turned into a ghost town. REUTERS / BORJA SUÁREZ

1,000 missing hotel beds

The bar in the port of Tazacorte offers meals, and at this time on its terrace you can also see tourists talking to each other over a plate of squid, or old woman, or fried moray eel, or limpets … But they are hardly a handful . Since mid-September, the foreign tourist influx has plummeted, and now practically only unconditional visitors flock to the island: retirees from central and northern Europe wearing hiking boots and backpacks, who the volcano has failed to intimidate. .

Tourism is the other major economic sector on the island, and it has also been badly affected by the eruption. La Palma does not have a highly developed tourist infrastructure, unlike the more eastern Canary Islands. But nevertheless, lava flows have destroyed an important part of the tourist fabric that he had managed to develop.

“The volcano has not only destroyed one of the best areas for banana cultivation, but also one of the best areas for tourist accommodation on the island”, describe Manuel Negro, of the Tourist Promotion Office of La Palma. These are rural houses and apartments, holiday homes, bungalows and other small establishments that were in the area devastated by lava flows, in the vicinity of Puerto Naos, the main tourist center in the western half of La Palma. “We estimate that 1,000 beds have disappeared. It has not affected any major tourist infrastructure, but many small and medium-sized owners,” he estimates.

Our goal is to convey that La Palma is much more than what the volcano has taken away

Even if tourism is perhaps the sector that can look to the future with the greatest hope, due to the call effect that the volcanic eruption can have, something that has already been seen in other parts of the world, such as Iceland. “Many people did not know us and they confused us with Palma de Mallorca or Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Now, from the volcano, we trust that whoever chooses La Palma already knows us perfectly and has us located on the map”, says Manuel Black.

“Our goal is to convey that La Palma is much more than what the volcano has taken away. In fact, our slogan is ‘For a thousand reasons, beautiful’. Los Tilos, Marcos and Cordero, the Caldera de Taburiente … We do think that in the future, if we do things well, what has happened has to be a claim for tourism“, he concludes.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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