Spain: Frequent droughts and excessive industrial and agricultural exploitation of land in Spain raise fears of an irreversible increase in “sterile lands”, which may turn the country known as “Europe’s vegetable garden” into a barren land unsuitable for cultivation.
“There used to be a forest of oak trees in the area… Today the site has turned into a lifeless zone,” said Gabriel del Barrio, a researcher at the Arid Regions Experimental Station in Almería, Andalusia, pointing to a hill with barren slopes.
Every day, this desertification specialist watches the landscape’s decline in this southern region with great concern.
Barrio added, “Spain will not turn into a desert with sandy hills, as is the case in the Sahara. This is scientifically impossible.” But desertification, which leads to “significant land degradation”, is also worrisome.
The main reason for this phenomenon is global warming, which leads to the evaporation of water and the expansion of destructive fires, but also and above all, human activity, especially intensive agriculture.
Despite its extremely dry climate, the province of Almería has turned over the years into “the vegetable garden of Europe” by cultivating enormous crops in greenhouses that produce thousands of tons of tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers in winter as well as in summer.
Barrio explains that this area, which amounts to 40,000 hectares and is irrigated with groundwater dating back thousands of years, exacerbates the problem “through the depletion of aquifers.”
This scenario is no exception in Spain.
According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, 75 percent of Spain’s territory is currently facing a climate that may lead to desertification. This makes it the European country most affected by this phenomenon.
“We find ourselves in a complex situation where extreme temperatures, drought and other factors combine to exacerbate the risks of erosion and deterioration of soil quality,” warned Environmental Transition Minister Teresa Ribera.
According to Spain’s Higher Council for Scientific Research, the actual degradation of land quality has tripled in the past ten years. The organization says that this phenomenon poses a problem because it is often “irreversible on the human level.”
For Spain, which has made agriculture one of the pillars of its economy, with exports of nearly 60 billion euros annually, this situation is cause for concern.
The Federation of Small Farmers said that “today soil erosion is the main problem for most farmers in Spain,” pointing to a “dangerous” situation that could result in high “economic costs”.