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Organic agriculture, cattle farming and agro-industry are much more popular in Malaga province nowadays, and the number of producers has almost doubled in five years
08.04.16 - 09:46 -
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The green economy puts down roots
Little by little, organic foods are becoming available to consumers. :: NURIA FAZ
Some people - most, according to surveys - are concerned about their health and want to avoid ingesting any types of herbicide, fertiliser or other chemical products in their food. Others simply want tomatoes to taste like tomatoes. There are also those who want to add their grain of sand to the protection of the environment and the fight against climate change.
Whatever the reason, it has been shown that people from all walks of life, are now choosing organic produce. The ‘hippy’ reputation of this type of food has largely disappeared now, among those who grow it and those who eat it. In fact, organic agriculture and farming has now become one of the most profitable and fast-growing sectors of the Malaga countryside.
In the past five years, the number of operators (including agricultural and cattle farms, the food industry, importers and retailers) with a ‘bio’ label has almost doubled in the province from 809 to 1407 - an increase of 74 per cent, according to figures published by the Junta de Andalucía.
This growth has not been reflected so much in the amount of land used for this purpose, which has only increased by about 13 per cent, but it has in the animal farming sector (59 per cent more heads of cattle) and, above all, in the industrial activities, which are those which transform and package the prime materials. This can be explained by the same situation which affects agriculture in Malaga in general: for geographical reasons, the amount of suitable land is limited - in fact, the province is last in the Andalusian ranking.
On the other hand, though, Malaga is one of the leaders in product transformation, because it is the second Andalusian province in terms of agro-industrial facilities: there are 284, more than double the figure five years ago.
As a result of this, the growth of the Malaga food industry is also reflected in the organic sector. Food handling and packaging plants, mills, wineries and cheese factories seem to have sprung up before our eyes.
Difficult to find land
This increase in organic food production is particularly noticeable in the so-called ‘orchard of Malaga’, the Guadalhorce valley, where there are now so many farmers that it is “very difficult to find land to rent,” says one of the biggest producers in that area, Antonio González.
“In the last year alone, production grew by about 10 per cent. There are some conventional farmers who have turned to organic produce, and others who have started from scratch with it,” says the manager of the Rural Development Group of the Guadalhorce, Sebastián Hevilla. The higher profits and greater price stability associated with this type of farming is behind the enthusiasm for ‘organic’ growing, although in the area there are still some small producers for whom organic agriculture is part of their way of life and thinking.
In La Axarquía, sub-tropical produce, and that grown under plastic, has also been ‘going green’, with major retail and export companies such as Frutas Montosa, Bio Algarrobo, Frunet Bio and Balcón de Europa acting as tractors and drawing others behind them.
European funding has also played a part in this type of production, says Luis Méndez, an expert in organic agriculture at Asaja Malaga.
“When there are grants available, as there were in 2015, there is always an increase in this type of cultivation. And there are some farmers who stop growing organic produce when the money comes to an end; that’s the way it is,” he says.
There is, however, something that has not changed since the beginnings of organic agriculture in Malaga, which is that 90 per cent of the production is exported. This means that the consumption of ‘bio’ products in Spain, although it is gradually increasing, is still light years behind countries such as Germany or the UK.
“We are the first ones to produce it and the last ones to eat it. If we don’t change that, we will be reliant on what exporting allows us to do,” says Luis Méndez, who warns that there are “signs of stagnation” in the evolution of organic production which, in his opinion, is due to the lack of demand in Spain.
Antonio González’s situation reflects that of the major producers in this sector. He began in 1995 on land he inherited from his father and now runs one of the biggest organic lemon plantations in Spain. The land covers over 80 hectares, and he also has another 40 hectares of oranges, mandarins and other fruits and vegetables. About 95 per cent of his produce is eaten abroad.
Luis Méndez believes the lack of information, promotion and retail channels continues to be a major obstacle to increasing consumption of organic produce in Spain. For him, the direct sales initiatives by producers, such as markets and consumer groups, “are all well and good, but they don’t reach enough people.”
Luis points out that somebody with a family plot of land can sell what they grow in local markets, but somebody who has 30 hectares of orange trees can’t. “There needs to be more work done so that organic produce has its own display case in every supermarket,” he says.
Others, like Sebastián Hevilla, take a more optimistic view. “Consumption of organic produce has quadrupled in Europe and even though it may not have grown that much in Spain, it has still increased. Some people in our area only used to export, but now they are selling in this country too,” he says, quoting the case of the Guadalhorce Ecológico cooperative.
Greater local consumption
Sebastián believes the network of organic markets, which has been set up by the Rural Development group in the province, has created a very positive interest among local people, who want to learn more about these products and who discover that they don’t cost more than the fruit and vegetables on sale in supermarkets.
“At the moment, a lot of produce is being sold directly to people at home,” he says. He also says that local producers are continually finding new points of sale, from herbalist shops to greengrocers. Supermarkets, he says, are not essential, although he points out that chains such as Lidl and Aldi are now dedicating more space to ‘bio’ produce.
There is, however, a downside to the ‘green economy’, one which is not spoken of officially but which more veteran producers insist on pointing out.
They say that, just as in other sectors of the economy, there is the risk of fraud. As Antonio González explains, not every product which is labelled as being organic actually is so.
“The certification organisations aren’t working as well as we had hoped,” he says. These organisations have to inspect the farms to ensure that they comply with regulations for organic production, but some products are slipping through the net. The Junta de Andalucía, in Antonio’s opinion, “needs to take the first step and investigate cases of fraud, and take firm action when it finds them.”

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