Wednesday, December 8

An ugly fruit at low prices: what causes the ash of the La Palma volcano


In the Palmafrut warehouse, in Los Llanos de Aridane, Julio, Yeray and Carlos introduce the mangoes one by one into buckets with water, wash them, analyze them and select them. Those that are fit go to the boxes to be marketed and those that look uglier, with a softer physiognomy, are discarded. In addition to ordering or classifying, their workday, which begins at 6 in the morning, has been added to the cleaning of the fruit that has received volcanic ash. The lava has affected more than 90 hectares of crops, especially bananas, avocados and vineyards, and has made irrigation difficult in the southwestern part of the island. They are lost crops. But the farmers who are able to sell their production find that part of their fruits, vegetables or vegetables are discarded because the volcanic material has diminished their quality and, with which they manage to sell, they barely have enough to cover their costs.

La Palma avocado, a gold product reduced to ashes by the volcano

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Palmafrut manager, Ángel Rodríguez, explains that the price paid to the farmer is established based on the quality of the food. As an example, he states that a certain product “if it is extra, it can be paid at 80 cents; if it is first quality, at 50-60 cents and if it is second-rate, at 15 cents.” The problem is that “more bad than good kilos” are arriving, especially in bananas, mangoes or oranges, fruits with a “sensitive skin” that are more affected by ash. Although in general all plants impregnated with volcanic material, if it is also hot, adds Rodríguez, they suffer damage. “Farmers cut a lot, but it costs a lot to sell,” he says.

Specifically, mango, whose cultivation has increased on La Palma in recent years (although far removed from banana trees, which permeate the entire island, or avocados), “has dropped in price,” says Rodríguez, because “it has gone from obtaining 90% of a high-quality product to 20% “. As she tells it, she points to the many piled-up boxes of scratched fruit and, next to it, the few undamaged mangoes.

“If a farmer charges 1.50 euros with mango production, now he begins to receive 0.70 cents. And it is sold on the shelves at 2.99 or 3.50 euros,” adds Rodríguez. In this sense, he argues that this difference between what the farmer receives and the final price is due to “all the expenses in between”, increased in recent months by the increase in the price of diesel or electricity. Transportation, handling, packaging or distribution are “fixed costs”. It qualifies this point because “it seems that the intermediary is always the bad one”; although he recognizes that “there are large surfaces that are passed.”

For bananas, which account for up to 30% of the total production in the Canary Islands, the Ministry of Agriculture announced that it would make the marketing standard more flexible to allow damaged but suitable fruits to be released. The banana farmer Alexis Fuentes explains that he is charging the extra category at 85 cents per kilo, an amount that he considers “fine” and gives him to cover his production costs, which are around 50 cents. But while before it could cut up to 80% of pineapples with high quality, now they do not suppose “nor 20%”; Most are first or second category, which causes the price they charge to drop a lot and make it difficult for them to cover what it costs to produce.

“The price of bananas is rising, which is good, because it is scarce. But the farmer does not charge more, because he has less quantity of high quality fruit. He receives more money for the extra, but he does not have even 10% of this product, it is not worth much “, emphasizes Rodríguez.

Economic and personal damages

Rodríguez recalls that Palmafrut, which has 60 workers, has also suffered the loss of a third of its client portfolio. For the moment, it mitigates it with sales in its greengrocers or exports to other islands, since the entity also has its own farms, a truck and stalls in Tenerife and Gran Canaria. “The palm product is well accepted in the Canary Islands and they continue to buy, they want to highlight its origin”, he adds.

The damage to the volcano has not only affected the company’s sales, but also some of its workers, who only have jobs left. While cleaning the mango trees, Julio remembers that he was evacuated from his home in Todoque Bajo on the second day of the eruption; she is still standing, although surrounded by the laundry. He lives with his partner, who is dedicated to packing bananas, in Los Llanos de Aridane, paying a rent of about 400 euros.

About 20 meters from the company’s warehouse, a fence cuts access to the La Laguna neighborhood, on the road that runs through the Llanos de Aridane in the direction of Puerto Naos. Yeray has his house there, with the lava at the doors. He has been evacuated for two weeks, living in Los Llanos de Aridane with his grandmother, his wife and their two children. He says it was not easy for him to find an affordable rent because of real estate speculation in the area, but he finally found a landlord who charges him 450 euros. “He has the house for sale, so if he finds a buyer, we have to leave,” he adds.

“At least we have work left”; adds Carlos, as he piles up the boxes of previously selected mangoes. He lost his house, his father’s and his grandfather’s, in the La Laguna neighborhood. She lives with her two children in Los Llanos de Aridane in her father-in-law’s house. The possibility of going to the Fuencaliente hotel, enabled for people evicted from their homes by the volcano, is unfeasible, since the distance they should travel is longer than an hour and their workday begins at 6 in the morning. He says that he has already gone to the care office for those affected. “They asked me if I preferred housing or compensation.” And opt for the second option.

The Los Llanos de Aridane market

“Let’s go pulling.” It is the unanimous response of the vendors that remain in the Los Llanos de Aridane market. There are more than a dozen stalls, but only five are open: two fruit and vegetable stores; a bakery; a fishmonger and a bar, the one that attracts the most customers, especially for its sandwich full, of meat with vegetables.

The reason is that it has expired administrative concessions for years, as explained in August this year by the mayor of Los Llanos de Aridane, Noelia García, when she presented the project to reform the facility. Specifically, the City Council announced a remodeling of the market to turn it into “a strategic point”, integrating the building into its surroundings and, in turn, it would work on calls for new assignments of positions.

Ana has one year left to retire in one of the fruit and vegetable stores that she has leased to the City Council. It acquires its products from companies such as Palmafrut and shows some marked by ash, especially oranges. Almost everything it offers is of Palmero origin, from bananas or sweet potatoes to pitahaya or chili. He says that he has not noticed an increase in the purchase of local products and he misses regular customers who are no longer in the area, after being evicted by the volcano.

To promote the consumption of palm product, the Government of the Canary Islands launches the project from November 8 to 12 Solidarity menu, we help the Island of La Palma. In a total of ten centers that provide professional training in the Hospitality and Tourism specialty, in the province of Las Palmas, dishes made with foods from the Isla Bonita are offered and the proceeds will go to those affected by the eruption.

In addition to the solidarity actions, the Ministry of Agriculture announced some first aid valued at 20.8 million euros to alleviate the damage caused by lava and ash in agricultural, livestock and fishing operations. However, the counselor of the branch in the regional government estimated at 100 million euros the losses only in banana trees; In this sense, he announced that compensation would be anticipated from state funds and the Posei will be modified so that the same levels of aid are maintained despite the drop in production.

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