Lectura

Almeria, Land of Agriculture

More than 32,000 hectares of greenhouses distributed among 12,500 farms and 15,000 farming families, generating more than 110,000 jobs.

It is very likely that these figures have attracted the attention of IFAMA’s organisers when choosing Almería as a venue for knowledge-sharing between students, academics and entrepreneurs. The future leaders of the world’s agri-food sector will learn about one of the few models of economic growth in Europe where agriculture has been the driving force.

Today, greenhouse agriculture, vegetable handling and marketing, and the auxiliary industry of agriculture, represent almost 40% of Almeria’s GDP (Cajamar, 2017), provided that all activities are grouped together in the form of an agricultural cluster. In this period, several milestones have been set, such as water saving, quality certification, biological pest control, organic production, and the two central areas of the IFAMA 2024 World Conference: innovation and sustainability.

The host of this call for international participation is ISAM, the Agribusiness School that decided to set up in Almeria and contribute to the professionalisation of the sector. A sector that has undergone a real revolution in recent years.

Innovation in Almeria’s agriculture

Technology has been fundamental to the economic performance of agriculture in Almeria. Plastic sheeting, hybrid seeds, soilless crops, irrigation schemes and new greenhouse structures have been steadily introduced, allowing for sustainable production improvements and increased marketing schedules, ensuring crop profitability and competitive markets. Specifically, horticultural production has almost quintupled from 669,218 tons in 1975 to 3,823,359 tons in 2021 (including not only winter production).

Large consumer countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom are looking for reliable suppliers who can continue to supply supermarkets and retail chains with quality fruit and vegetables throughout most of the year. This is the reason why Almeria is breaking fruit and vegetable export records.

The province of Almería is known for its warm and dry climate, with average annual temperatures ranging between 18 and 20 degrees Celsius. These favourable climatic conditions are combined with an agrosystem that has not ceased to innovate since the first greenhouse was built in 1963. Not for nothing does it lead the great work of feeding a large part of the world’s population, which is set to reach 10 billion people by 2050.

Sustainability

Efficiency in the use of finite natural resources in an intelligent and sustainable way is another defining element of the fruit and vegetable production that sustains Europe. The sector has proven to be able to minimise waste and resource use. Greenhouses have broken taboos by recycling 90% of the plastic waste they generate. The second most commonly used life is that of mechanical recycling, whereby the plastic is reused in the form of pellets or agglomerates to obtain a new one. However, it also has other purposes, such as that of the Almeria designer Elena Funes and her Agricostura clothing collection, made with fibres from recycled plastic from greenhouses; or that of the architect Ana Cervilla, who converts vegetable waste from greenhouse crops in Almeria into materials for building construction.

There is also great potential in the area to expand the use of photovoltaic solar energy on the roofs of greenhouses and use it to increase the technification of intensive agriculture. It has been proven that if these forms of production in southeastern Spain had solar panels, 31% of Spain’s energy needs could be generated.

Invernadero con plantación vertical en almería

Job creation

Intensive agriculture in Almería has become a livelihood for the residents of the area, where the development of associative or cooperative type entities has proliferated, as well as local marketing companies closely linked to the production processes.

In this sense, the organisations belonging to this model, cooperatives and agricultural processing companies, currently represent around 70% of fruit and vegetable sales in the country.

The equitable distribution of the territory also results in a broad and equal distribution of the provincial economy as a whole, generating few disparities in income and welfare levels. Almeria attracts individuals from all over the world, boosting the economy in rural areas with a high risk of depopulation. According to data from the INE (National Statistics Institute), the percentage of emigrant population registered in one of the producing provinces in southeastern Spain in 2022 was 21.8%, compared to the national average of 11.6%.

Future prospects

The agricultural landscape of Almeria in the next decade will have gained in biodiversity inside and outside the greenhouses. The forecast is that their farmers will be more familiar with digital processes, more innovative and more concerned about environmental sustainability.

Parallel to this progress, the sector will have to face major challenges such as the new Food Chain Law, which has meant an administrative burden that is very difficult to comply with for all those affected, without achieving the desired objectives; achieving EU control over imports from third countries so that they meet the same quality standards; and a specific water policy that takes into account the problems of the structural water deficit in the area.

Conclusions

The success story of agriculture in Almeria highlights not only technological innovation and sustainability as fundamental pillars of its development, but also the significant social and economic impact it has generated in the region.

In our International Master in Agribusiness Management you will learn about the agricultural model of Almeria and about innovation and entrepreneurship among many other things.

ISAM Academy

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