The Malaga region of La Axarquía is one of the main sources of desertification in the Iberian Peninsula, a situation aggravated by the rise of irrigated crops of subtropical fruits such as mangoes and avocados (large consumers of water), in areas previously dedicated to rainfed crops.
The great demand for water that this product has is destroying the agricultural soils of the Axarquía
Drought in Axarquia (Malaga)
According to the National Strategy to Combat Desertification, while cultivated lands decreased by 3% between 2008 and 2018, irrigated woody crops such as mangoes increased by 2.1% during the same time period.
Among the provinces most affected by the loss of soil, Malaga is in the lead, together with Barcelona, having lost, on average, some 90 tons per hectare per year, while the region of La Axarquía is mentioned in the National Inventory of Soil Erosion (INES) as “the Malaga region that suffers the most from this process”.
The main concentration of this fruit is found in La Axarquia, a mountainous area where “rainfed cultivation has abounded on the slopes, building terraces or balates to prevent soil loss,” explains Rafael Yus, head of GENA-Ecologists in Action.
Subtropical irrigated crops are destroying environment
However, the conversion of these rainfed crops into subtropical irrigated crops, such as mangoes or avocados, has been accompanied by the use of heavy machinery, “which had never happened before, and which damages the soil, removing all its cover.” vegetable and destroying the earth.
“When we talk about desertification, we tend to think about the loss of soil because it is the most visual,” emphasizes Yus, who points out that “there are other forms of degradation”, such as the one that occurs in La Axarquía, related to “the loss quality in the soil.
According to Yus, mango plantations in particular are depleting the area’s water resources “to the point where it has been considered to use desalination plants to supply the population, and thus be able to allocate all of the dammed water to agriculture.”
Gabriel del Barrio, from the Arid Zones Experimental Station, warns of the danger of granting, in Spain, a “nature charter” to foreign crops such as mangoes, since “the change in the use of the usual utilization entails increasing profits in a territory smaller and smaller” and less protected.
As a result, the National Strategy to Combat Desertification emphasizes the “existence of vegetation cover” that protects the soil from erosion rather than the type of crop.
However, del Barrio says that this premise is correct in the case of rainfed crops, while in irrigated crops, such as mangoes, “the cover not only does not protect the soil from erosion, but it becomes a risk factor”.
In this regard, Greenpeace’s Julio Barea cites the case of corn plantations near the Los Monegros desert (Aragon) as an example, which “does not make sense, because corn requires a lot of water, so locating this crop next to a desert is inexplicable.”