Banana farmers lose livelihoods as lava devours La Palma

Emilio Morenatti & Joseph Wilson

LAS MANCHAS DE ABAJO, CANARY ISLANDS (AP) – His house left first. Then the house that his father built. Then the stand and the hardware store he owned collapsed.

Finally, Antonio Álvarez must have watched the lava from a volcanic eruption slowly devour the last pillar of his family’s wealth: the twelve hectares he devoted to the cultivation of the Canarian bananas which, for generations, provided the agricultural lifeblood of the Atlantic Ocean archipelago.

“My dad always told me ‘don’t make the house too big, it won’t make you money; invest in bananas! Bananas will give you a home. And it’s true, ”said lvarez. “When I filmed (the lava destroying) my father’s house, it was watching him die again. This house was part of him.

Álvarez, 54, is one of thousands of farmers and workers on the Spanish island of La Palma whose livelihoods have been jeopardized by the destruction caused by the volcano which continues to be violent for six weeks after the opening of the ground on September 19.

The regional government of the Canary Islands, an archipelago comprising La Palma off the coast of northwest Africa, estimates that the volcano has already caused 100 million euros ($ 116 million) in losses to the industry banana tree on the island. More than 390 acres of land used for banana cultivation was covered with molten rock, and over 700 more acres were cut after roads on the west side of the island were covered with lava.

The Canary Islands Banana Producers Association, ASPROCAN, estimated that some 1,500 of the island’s 5,000 banana plantation owners were injured. Most owners have small plots of a few acres. Many, like lvarez, have seen their land scorched and crushed.

Ash from the volcano covers a banana plantation on the Canary Island of La Palma. PHOTO: AP

Others have lost crops because they cannot access their trees. And many more have seen their product become unsaleable due to the volcanic ash that ruined the banana peels.

It was a shock wave for an industry that provides 30% of the island’s economic life, according to regional government statistics. There are entire companies dedicated to the packaging and transport of fruit, which together with tourism makes La Palma live.

“They say it wiped out 10% of the island’s economy. I think it’s more. It wasn’t just the bananas, or the apartments, or the guesthouses, he took it all, ”said lvarez.

“What happened to us happened to 90% of the people here. ”

La Palma, an island of 85,000 inhabitants, is the second largest banana producer in the eight-member archipelago, which lies at its closest point 100 kilometers from Morocco. Last year it produced 148,000 tonnes of local bananas, most of which were shipped to mainland Spain. Although it is generally more expensive than bananas imported from Latin America and Africa, the smaller Canarian banana is often preferred for its sweeter taste and meatier texture.

The authorities have pledged financial assistance to help the sector and finance workers’ leave. They also promised to revise a law that says new lands formed by lava are owned by the state.

Desalination plants have been dispatched to supply water-dependent bananas to points where lava flows have destroyed irrigation systems. The island’s government has asked the military to consider taking the farmers by boat to tend to farms isolated by the lava rivers.

Lava, however, continues to spew from the Cumbre Vieja Ridge, threatening to expand and consume more land as it heads towards the Atlantic, where a new patch of lava land is forming.

The house of farmer Jesús Pérez is still in danger, but for him the most important property he owns has already disappeared.

“I would have preferred to lose my house instead of my banana trees,” said Pérez, 56. “The trees give you life, the house gives you nothing. I’ve sacrificed my whole life, and for what, nothing?

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