Crop losses for farmers in Malaga province's Guadalhorce valley area. SUR
'It's just like a desert': Guadalhorce valley farmers plead for more water in bid to save their fruit trees

'It's just like a desert': Guadalhorce valley farmers plead for more water in bid to save their fruit trees

The agricultural community claims the sector is on its knees, while tourism on the Costa del Sol continues to flourish with the swimming pool restrictions being lifted

Alba Tenza


Monday, 10 June 2024, 16:49

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Agustín García finds it hard to look at his citrus trees. He limits himself to observing the mountains or the sky over which every few minutes the occasional plane passes on its way to Malaga Airport. The president of the Arroyo Gragea irrigation community is clear that the Guadalhorce valley farmers' greatest hope for this year is none other than to be able to save their trees. "We can't aspire to more," he said.

The feeling of frustration is shared by the hundred or so irrigators who form part of his community and who, together with the rest of the farmers in the region, agree that nine hectometres for irrigation - which the last drought commission granted them for this hydrological year - are completely "insufficient", according to the board of the Provincial Association of Irrigators of Malaga (Aprema).

They started the current hydrological year on 1 October without forecasts due to the lack of rainfall. Back then, the association told SUR they were happy that Malaga was "the Silicon Valley of Europe", but they insisted that the ruin was only going to be for the countryside. Last April, the region's farmers set up a central users' board to unify their requests to the administrations regarding the improvement of water infrastructures after learning they would only have six cubic hectometres available for irrigation this year, pending rainfall.

It was the irrigators represented by Aprema who met with water secretary Ramiro Angulo and demanded they be given 12 hectometres. "The drought decree establishes a 25% allocation, which is equivalent to a total of 10 hectometres, so we were entitled to more water," said the president of the irrigation association Acequia del Guadalhorce, Salvador Aragón.

Two irrigation periods

After asking for these extra hectometres, at a meeting of the last drought commission it was approved that farmers in this area would have nine hectometres with which to save their crops. "With the bad taste in our mouths that we have in the countryside because the taps of the pools and at beaches continue to be opened while more construction is authorised, we met around 15 irrigation communities to decide how to divide those nine hectometres," pointed out sources close to the board of Aprema. At that meeting, farmers who irrigate their crops with water from the reservoirs decided to divide it so they could have two irrigation periods, from 20 June to 14 July and from 5 August until the available water runs out.


While the farmers in the region are still staring at the sky with little hope of saving their crops, the calendar for the first irrigation period has been modified, bringing it forward to 12 June and cutting it on 8 June to "help the Verna lemons to develop well, as now in the season they need irrigation for their development prior to harvesting", according to what the Asaja young farmers' association (Asaja) said last week. This recommendation came about after seeing that the Fino lemon season had been "very disappointing", so they hope that the price of the Verna will evolve, as the quality of the product will be "optimal".

With regard to the amount of water they will have for each of the irrigations, Guadalhorce farmers plan to use five hectometres for the first and the remaining four hectometres for the second period, until it runs out. In view of this situation, they are asking the government for more water, because just as Agustín García is "saddened and frustrated" by the current state of their land, so too are the rest of the farmers.

They also criticised that other areas such as the service sector and tourism are growing while the countryside is the "great forgotten". Aprema pointed out this situation will lead to the loss of farms, jobs and many traditional crops. "It's just like a desert, if you are lucky enough to be in a place where the soil retains more moisture, the plant suffers less, but if not, your tree dries out sooner," they said.

No horticulture

Faced with this situation, Guadalhorce farmers have decided not to sow horticultural crops in order to avoid further losses. "If we had sown them, they would all be dead by now," Aragón said on behalf of the other 815 irrigators who form part of their community, which covers 988 hectares of land. "We are gambling with plantations that need 10 or 12 years to start producing, like some of the fruit trees we have left, there are 40-year-old plantations that could die this year," said the farmer, who pointed out that this year the only two irrigations they have - unlike in a normal year when they watered uninterruptedly until October - are for woody crops. "Agriculture in the Guadalhorce valley is in the intensive care unit," he added.

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