A catastrophe for Málaga: Avocado harvest fails due to drought

by Lorraine Williamson
avocado harvest

VELEZ-MALAGA – In the southern Spanish region of La Axarquía, avocados are referred to as “the green gold.” Alongside tourism, the local economy heavily relies on this crop. However, after four consecutive years of drought, the area is facing a year without an avocado harvest. 

La Axarquía is continental Europe’s largest producer of avocados and now faces a year without a harvest if rain doesn’t come in September. This situation is being watched with deep concern by the local population. 

Also read: Spain receives 81 million in EU aid to fight drought 

The region has been plagued by drought for four years, resulting in a critical water shortage. La Viñuela, the region’s primary reservoir, has dwindled to just 9% of its capacity. Moreover, researchers are warning that the subtropical fruit may disappear if robust solutions are not implemented to solve the water crisis. 

Drought and illegal water extraction 

Local farmers are extremely anxious as production has dropped dramatically due to the drought. While 25,000 kilos were harvested two years ago, this year may see no production at all. Besides drought, factors like illegal water extraction are playing a significant role. Earlier in the year, 250 illegal wells were discovered in the region, causing damage worth €10 million to the public treasury. 

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Climate change overlooked 

In addition to water management issues, the impact of climate change is contributing to the crisis. Experts stress that water planning has not adequately considered climate change, thereby exacerbating the current emergency. They also advocate for long-term solutions, including developing avocado strains that require less water, enhancing irrigation systems through technology like drones and sensors, and constructing desalination plants. 

The focus shifts to other fruits 

In 2020, the avocado industry in the region generated profits of about €200 million. Nevertheless, strategies like cultivating other fruits that are more resilient to water shortages, such as mango, pitaya, maracuja, and lychee, are now being explored. 

According to El País newspaper, the Andalucian government has not yet stated the community’s agricultural policy. Meanwhile, some farmers are beginning to implement short-term solutions on their land, like reducing the water footprint through pruning and pollination, including the placement of beehives to ensure the presence of honeybees. Systems employing sensors can also be utilised to provide the exact water supply needed for each tree. However, many of these solutions are either costly or only effective in the long term. 

In May, the regional government announced its intention to construct a desalination plant in Axarquía. While this is promising, the project’s completion is likely to take another 2.5 to 3.5 years. 

Also read: Avocado and mango cultivation in Southern Spain in danger due to drought 

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