The coveted bananas of La Palma, threatened by the ash of the volcano and the lack of water

It is “worse than a plague”, laments Pedro Antonio Sánchez, showing the volcanic grit in a banana, which constitutes, together with the lack of water, the great threat to the main source of wealth on the Spanish island of La Palma.

“It is worse than a bug, worse than a plague, because it scratches” the bananas -as they call bananas here-, curses Sánchez, 60, owner of a small plantation. It refers to this gravel that has rained from the sky since the beginning of the eruption of Cumbre Vieja, on September 19, on this island of the Canary archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean.

Once the sand settles on the fruit, the nightmare begins, because it is almost impossible to remove it and it is damaged by handling, transportation and packaging: the large bunches of bananas, which here are also called “pineapples” and can weigh up to 70 kilos, are carried on the shoulders.

“You have to blow it, or with water, I don’t know how to do it. When dew falls at night the sand sticks with the dew water, and then it does not come out in the morning, it does not come out,” insists Sánchez.

The leaves of a banana, stained by volcanic ash on the island La Palma, in the Canary Islands. Photo: AFP

The banana skin turns black in the form of a scratch – nothing to do with the black specks that indicate a ripe banana – and Although the fruit is still good, it is rejected.

“European quality regulations prevent the marketing of bananas with tears greater than four square centimeters in each one, even though they are perfect inside and can be consumed without any risk,” Esther Domínguez, head of the Association’s technical department, explained to AFP. of Organizations of Producers of Bananas of the Canary Islands (ASPROCAN).

Good humor, grace and loquacity leave the farmer when he turns his gaze to the fruit.

“You don’t feel like working, it makes you want to throw in the towel, because I see them so ugly and so bad … The situation is so bad,” confesses Sánchez.

The banana, he says, “is a grateful plant,” but it needs a lot of water. And right now, “the lack of water is the most important threat.”

canary palm volcanic eruption

Destroyed pipe

The volcano has mainly affected the Aridane Valley, in the southwest of the island, where the lava destroyed a pipe that supplied water to properties in the areas of El Remo, Puerto Naos and La Bombilla.

The island does not have rivers or large lakes, it is supplied mainly by rain and aquifers, and traditionally suffers shortage problems.

Two water desalination plants arrived on the island Tuesday night and a tanker is expected to arrive next week.

“Right now we have no other way to put water there, in such a short time,” Víctor Navarro, general director of Waters in the autonomous community, explained on Radio Nacional de España (RNE), describing the solution as “urgent, immediate and palliative.” .

Ash from the Cumbre Vieja volcano on La Palma covers the island and the banana plantations.  Photo: AFP

Ash from the Cumbre Vieja volcano on La Palma covers the island and the banana plantations. Photo: AFP

“There has been a decline” in banana arrivals “of 50-60%” since the eruption began, Enrique Rodríguez, from Covalle, a cooperative in the area where bananas arrive to be packed and packed, told AFP news agency. sent to their destinations.

The fall in production is due to “the farms that have taken the lava, and because it costs the others more” to produce due to the restrictions on access to farms close to the laundry.

Key source of income

La Palma produced 148,000 tons of bananas in 2020, 34.5% of the Canary Islands, according to ASPROCAN.

It is the second island of the Canary Islands in terms of production, after Tenerife.

Banana growers are easily distinguished by the brown stains on their shirts, caused by milk released from the fruit when the flower is cut, and which are impossible to clean.

A banana plantation in Los Llanos de Aridana, on the island of La Palma.  Photo: AFP

A banana plantation in Los Llanos de Aridana, on the island of La Palma. Photo: AFP

Bananas contribute 50% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of La Palma, according to the Association of Organizations of Producers of Bananas of the Canary Islands.

Of the 70,000 hectares that the island has, 10% are dedicated to agricultural use, mainly to the cultivation of bananas (43%), but also to vine (13%) and avocado (12%) -which also requires large quantities of water-, according to the Canarian Foundation La Palma World Biosphere Reserve.

The banana, says Sánchez, “needs a lot of watering and every 7 days. Now it is being watered every 15 days, to save water, and they are not going to dry out, but the fruit notices it.”

More than 80% of the plantations in the Canary Islands are smaller than one hectare. Income is meager and farmers live from day to day.

Sánchez likes taking care of the bananas, but he is tired of living badly.

“There are months of 1,000 euros, of a thousand something, but the norm is little,” sometimes only 300, explains Sánchez, anguished about the future: “It doesn’t make me want to work,” he says dejectedly.

Source: AFP

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