Doñana strawberries sprayed with stolen water in European supermarkets

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doñana strawberries

Red fruits such as strawberries and raspberries are illegally grown on no less than 1,360 hectares of agricultural land around  Doñana National Park. This happens outside the permitted zones. Remarkable is these fruits, irrigated with stolen water simply end up in our supermarkets.

This is evident from recent research by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). It has been established that farmers in Doñana are illegally using water and land for their crops. The organisation has determined this using advanced techniques such as satellite images and aerial photographs, but also through direct observations. While the area is suffering from severe drought and its unique biodiversity is under pressure.

The impact on the market

These illegal practices not only have consequences for nature but also for consumers. The WWF estimates that approximately 35,000 tons of illegally grown red fruits are brought to the European market every year. Illegal irrigation is therefore not limited to small areas. Of the total “illegal area”, 294.8 hectares correspond to illegally irrigated farms in forest areas of high ecological value. That is, in an area where farmers deliberately cut down masses of trees to establish their illegal crops.”

Nine cubic hectares of illegal water

WWF’s report also estimates how much water, according to the organisation, has been “illegally extracted to irrigate these crops.” That figure could “reach up to nine cubic hectares.” According to the NGO, this “represents a threat to the recovery of the aquifer, which is at the maximum alert level.”

The WWF general secretary said: “It is unacceptable that millions of kilos of strawberries and other red fruits irrigated with stolen water from Doñana end up in many national and foreign supermarkets. Moreover, this happens with complete impunity and in the eyes of all responsible authorities. Meanwhile, Doñana is on the brink of an ecological collapse.

WWF demands action

The WWF is therefore demanding action from the Spanish government and European supermarkets. Furthermore, they emphasise that it is essential to tackle illegal cultivation and water use to protect Doñana. The nature reserve is known for its unique flora and fauna and plays a crucial role in the European ecological network.

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Can you recognise legal Doñana strawberries?

The fact is that identifying the ‘legal’ Doñana strawberries for the consumer is an almost impossible mission. Production with permission to extract water from the aquifer is very mixed with production without permission. This even happens on the same farms. This makes certification difficult, even for the most demanding quality marks, writes Companies that have permits for everything can still irrigate part of their harvest with water from an illegal well. Here are a few ways to reduce the chance of buying ‘wrong strawberries’:

1. Search for certifications

Check the packaging for certifications of sustainable agricultural practices. Certificates such as GlobalG.A.P., Fair Trade or organic certifications indicate that the products have been grown according to certain sustainability standards. These standards may relate to water use, among other things.

2. Buy organic

Organic strawberries are grown with respect for the environment. The use of chemical pesticides is limited and there are often stricter requirements for water use. Although this does not always guarantee that water from Doñana has not been used, it does reduce the risk of environmental damage or illegality.

3. Direct information from the producer

Some producers include information about their growing practices, including water use, on their website or packaging. Look for producers who are transparent about their sources and sustainability efforts.

Campaign against Doñana strawberries

Last year, the German association Campact held a campaign to boycott ‘drought strawberries’ from Doñana. This meant that critical consumers no longer bought strawberries from Spain anyway. This meant that the ‘good guys’ suffered greatly at the hands of the ‘evil ones’. Manuel Delgado is spokesperson for the Almonte farmers’ association. He agrees that “controlling water use in Doñana is complicated” because of the “complexity” of the matter in an environment where “everything is extremely mixed”.

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