Wednesday, November 30

Replant three months after the end of the La Palma volcano eruption

It has been more than three months since the eruption of the volcano of La Palma was considered finished. During the 85 days that it was active, it affected 370 hectares of crops in the western part of the island: more than 60% were banana trees; 18% vines and 7% avocados. The municipalities of Los Llanos de Aridane and Tazacorte were the most affected. The lava buried land that was the main way of life for many palm trees and palm trees, directly or indirectly. And the lands that survived the passage of the lava have been isolated or severely affected by the ash, leading farmers to make the decision to uproot their crops and re-sow, which lengthens the waiting period until they obtain fruit.

The Cabildo de La Palma reduces the exclusion zones of the volcano due to the improvement of conditions

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This is the case of farmer Alexis Fuentes, who had bought 10 fanegadas on the coast of Tazacorte together with his brother with a bank loan of 150,000 euros. When he saw that the flows would flow into the sea, destroying the banana plantations near the coast, he assumed that he would lose his farm, which had hardly produced any. But today it remains intact, although very affected and deteriorated. “It’s been six months without watering it,” says Fuentes, who has already been able to go to the area twice. “You get depressed when you see them, they’re all dry,” he adds.

You still cannot irrigate them, because there is no necessary infrastructure, nor is there electricity. Fuentes will have to uproot the plantations to plant again, which means not having production until, at least, 2023. Without the ability to generate income, Fuentes dedicates himself to another farm of his father in the Argual neighborhood, within the municipality of Tazacorte, but inside. This has been very affected by the ash. “We have had to cut down many plants because of the volcanic sand, because the pineapples were not worth the market,” says Fuentes. Thus, he anticipates that he will have to wait for the next harvest to obtain fruit in good condition.

Fuentes says that he has received part of the aid committed to the palm primary sector and the bank has extended the payment of the loan for his farm near the Tazacorte coast for six months. The Ministry of Agriculture of the Canarian Government announced that in December last year it paid an advance of 13.5 million to mitigate production losses in banana farms buried by lava and for farms affected by ash, gases or lack of irrigation. To date, the different administrations involved in the La Palma emergency have mobilized 367 million euros.

On March 23, the Minister of Agriculture, Alicia Vanoostende, assured that the beginning of the recovery of the sector on the Island was already visible, with green shoots in banana crops affected by the volcano. The note reflected testimonials from different professionals in the field, who hope to have production for this year thanks to the water from a tanker and desalination plants. “The children of the lost bushes are beginning to flourish,” said Carlos Rodríguez, owner of some banana plots in El Remo.

However, Juan Vicente Rodríguez, president of the Covalle banana cooperative, says that the green shoots have occurred in “very few” farms, “those in which they were able to irrigate as God intended and save them, but others we have not been able to”. In his opinion, the desalination plants have helped “to save a few farms, but not the majority.” Although he considers that “the Government’s intention was not bad,” he believes that other alternatives must be carried out so that farmers can have water, such as, for example, building a pipeline that reaches the southern part of the island through the highway of Fuencaliente.

Rodríguez had 15 bushels of bananas: five have been buried by the lava; another five are in Las Hoyas, where they still cannot access due to toxic gases. And five in Charco Verde that must “sow again”, as they cannot count on guaranteed water to maintain the plantation and be able to harvest something this year, which begins in that area in September. In addition, it does not predict a good campaign for next year either. “What the plant is going to give birth to is very bad because of the ash, (the plantations) have a very big condition.”

For this reason, he is determined to prepare the land again to cultivate “when there is enough water”, a job that he considers “immense” and that will not be easy, because there is still a lot to clear so that the land is productive in certain areas. Rodríguez says that he has already received part of the aid and, in this sense, he considers that he cannot complain; but he does demand to know when the rest will arrive. “The banana sector has an umbrella for being well organized; We are going to receive the corresponding aid for sure, but we still need to know when they are going to pay us”, he points out.

Airam Gutiérrez is in a similar situation. He has farms in Las Hoyas that he still cannot access and others in Charco Verde that he has already decided to start up because “they were in too critical a condition.” Gutiérrez was one of the farmers who embarked on the army boats that connected Tazacorte with Puerto Naos by sea to avoid traveling by road, which involves a journey of more than an hour and a half as both areas were cut off to the west due to the lava flows. . This action has already been withdrawn and Gutiérrez has returned to make the tour by land. “They have helped us a little with diesel and we are escaping,” he says.

In the area that he can access in Charco Verde, he says that “there is not much water,” but since he has already decided to till the land again, he deposits what he can obtain in a tank until summer comes, when he hopes to plant. “It is sown in July or August, (the plants) give birth the following year, also in summer; then it takes between three or four months to collect and another so to get paid for the sales”, so he foresees a little more than two years to start charging for his work. “At the moment, I have received some help, a little,” he adds.

The Association of Banana Producer Organizations of the Canary Islands (Asprocan) demanded from the Ministry of Justice on March 22 a series of urgent measures for the sector, such as the definition of a management framework to recover 200 hectares of cultivation in the area of coast buried by lava or guarantee a safe way to carry out works and recovery of land to rebuild. It has also presented a proposal for 23 fiscal measures, ranging from the IGIC to personal income tax.

The employers have recalled that the banana is one of the economic and social engines of La Palma, generating more than 10,000 jobs on an island with about 85,000 inhabitants and reflects that there are 500 families affected by the volcano that depend on this crop. For its part, the Europlátano cooperative has presented its recovery plan on the island, where it has already planted 5,000 new crops and hopes to plant 1,000 a week in a planned and staggered process, so that production is not concentrated on the same dates.

The ashes in the vineyard

The vineyard is, behind the banana, the second most important crop on La Palma. Traditionally, families in rural settings have planted vines and have had their own winery. With the Regulatory Council of the Denomination of Origin of La Palma, in the 90s, its production is professionalized and ordered. The Tamanca winery has most of its production between Las Manchas and Jedey, where its restaurant is also located. There, 65% of its production was covered with ash in the last days of the eruption. Today, “they are still working on cleaning tasks” and “much remains to be done”, remarks Federico Simón Rodríguez, the winery’s oenologist.

Now, the vineyard is beginning to sprout and “in a couple of months the bunches will begin to set, which is a more delicate moment”; therefore, he fears that the wind will move the ash and affect the plant. “That is the big question, but let’s see if we are lucky and it rains a little more, because it makes the ash not come back as much, and, above all, there is no wind,” Rodríguez hopes. Despite the fact that the area where these plantations are located has been affected by ash, the vineyard, not needing much water, was able to survive. The main work has focused on removing layers of volcanic material.

“Where there are huge thicknesses, 80 centimeters or even a meter, it is very difficult to recover, especially the vines very close to the cone. But where we are, I believe that if the wind respects us, it can move forward and we can save them”, explains Rodríguez. What the winemaker does not know is what type of grape will come out, “this catches us all again; if we had some previous experience… but we are testing, because we do not have much knowledge of the facts to know what the product will be like. But for illusion and work that does not remain ”.

Nor have they been able to open the restaurant, the winery’s main source of income. “Until we have a road to the north, it is unfeasible, we are cut off by lava,” Rodríguez recalls. The Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda has already issued a resolution that, since March 22, has authorized the emergency works of the coastal highway to connect the north and south through the west of the island.

With an initial budget of 38 million euros, the works are expected to begin on April 18 and, according to the President of the Government of the Canary Islands, Ángel Víctor Torres, they have an execution period of about five months, although “we must be realistic because we must check how the temperature is in the casting areas and face possible difficulties”, he clarified.

Rodríguez says that he has also received help, especially in the business field. “With the Chamber of Commerce, especially for the restaurant. Then the ERTES, which we are pulling thanks to that, because without producing it is impossible. But hey, we’re getting by, we’re not complaining”, he concludes.