Volcanic Grit, Water Shortage Threaten La Palma's Bananas
Faizan Hashmi 12 days ago Wed 13th October 2021 | 08:40 AM
Los Llanos de Aridane, Spain, (UrduPoint / Pakistan Point News - 13th Oct, 2021 ) :"It's worse than a plague," curses Pedro Antonio Sanchez, fuming over the volcanic grit coating his bananas, the main source of wealth on the Canaries' island of La Palma.
The volcano has caused huge damage to banana plantations in La Palma -- the second-largest producer in the Atlantic Canary Islands -- where the crop accounts for 50 percent of the island's economy, industry figures show.
Once the black grit lands on the bananas, it is almost impossible to remove.
And it causes further damage in the handling, transport and packing, with the huge bunches -- which are known as "pineapples" and can weigh up to 70 kilos (150 Pounds) -- carried on the shoulders.
"You have to blast it off with water or something, to be honest I don't know how to do it," says this 60-year-old who owns a small plantation.
"When the dew forms overnight, it really makes the grit stick and in the morning it just won't come off," he says, with evident frustration.
The skin blackens in the form of a scratch but nothing like the brownish-black markings, known as bruises, which show the fruit is ripe.
And although the banana is perfect, it is rejected and cannot be sold.
"European quality regulations ban the sale of bananas with more than four square centimetres of scratches per fruit, even if they are perfect inside and can be eaten without risk," says Esther Dominguez of ASPROCAN, which represents banana producers in the Canary Islands.
- One year's crop lost - "It just takes away your desire to work, makes you want to throw in the towel because they are just so ugly," he says, his face darkening as he looks at his damaged fruit.
"We're in a really bad situation." The volcano's eruption has predominantly hurt the Aridane valley on the western flank of La Palma, although the problem caused by volcanic ash and grit has affected a much wider area.
"It is not just the Aridane valley because the wind changes direction and ash is blown all over so 100 percent of the island is affected," Juan Vicente Rodriguez Leal, head of the Covalle agricultural cooperative told AFP.
La Palma has long suffered from water shortages, with no rivers, lakes or reservoirs, with the island getting its water from underground aquifers or clouds whose water is collected by pine trees and transferred to the ground.
Bananas "need a lot of irrigation every seven days. Now we're irrigating every 15 days to save water, and although they're not going to dry out, the fruit feels the impact," he says.
- Deliveries down 50 percent - The harvested bananas are transported to Los Llanos de Aridane where Covalle packs and ships them.
But since the eruption, "there has been a drop of about 50 to 60 percent" in deliveries, Covalle's manager Enrique Rodriguez told AFP, pointing to the number of plantations "swept away by the lava".
Others were struggling with restricted access to plantations close to the lava flow, he said.
In terms of production, it is second only to Tenerife, which is three times larger.
Banana growers stand out for the indelible stains on their clothes, brown patches caused by the milky juice that leaks out when the teardrop-shaped magenta blossoms are cut.
More than 80 percent of the banana plantations in the Canaries are modest plots of less than 2.5 acres (one hectare), with many farmers living hand-to-mouth.
Although Sanchez enjoys the work, he's had enough of living on the breadline.
"There are months when you bring in 1,000 euros ($1,150) or a bit more but it's normally less" -- sometimes even as little as 300 euros, he says.
"It just doesn't make me feel like working."