Cork cutting is hard seasonal work, on difficult terrain and in the heat. / V.M.

Skilled cork cutter shortage leads to calls for college to train youngsters to help save the traditional craft

The cork cutting season is about to begin in the Serranía de Ronda and elsewhere in Malaga province, but it gets harder and harder to find people who want to do the job

VANESSA MELGAR Ronda

The Serranía de Ronda, the leading area for cork production in Malaga province (which is third in Andalucía after Huelva and Cadiz), is preparing for the new season when the cork which covers the trunks of the trees is removed and, generally, used to make stoppers for bottles.

The sector is not expecting this to be a good year: Francisco Boza of COAG-Andalucía said recently that there is not much cork to be cut, especially in the Genal Valley. “I calculate that there could be around 2.5 million kilos,” he said, and if there is less cork to sell then the price will go up. A tree has to be left to rest for ten years after the cork is removed, to enable the bark to grow again.

Last year, the ASAJA young farmers association said that 3,800 tonnes had been collected from the Serranía de Ronda, when there would normally be about 4,200. The harvest was marked by low humidity, which made the work of the cutters more difficult. This year it has rained more, especially in March and April, so the harvest should be easier to collect.

One of the main difficulties for the sector is that there are fewer cork cutters and muleteers. “It’s really hard to find people, a lot of them leave because they find other jobs, such as in construction. Not many young people want to work in the cork industry," Francisco Boza said, and he thinks the Junta de Andalucía should set up a college to train people in the sector. “The crews don’t want to train youngsters because it would cost them money, so the authorities should do it,” he insisted.

Seasonal work

Cork cutting is seasonal work, but he believes the youngsters could work in other aspects of forestry for the rest of the year. “It’s harder and harder every year to find people to do this work,” he said.

Malaga province is estimated to have 32,000 hectares of cork oak woods, of which 24,000 are in the Ronda area, especially Ronda itself and Cortes de la Frontera, where the councils earn good money from the sector. Cork cutting is a hard job because of the difficult terrain and the heat, and there are fears that this traditional profession will eventually die out altogether.