Algarve citrus industry in danger

By Sophie McCarrick [email protected]

A lack of rainfall in the Algarve has for some time been affecting agricultural production throughout the region. Faro in particular is now suffering from a massive decline in locally grown produce including citrus fruit.

With only approximately 10% of normal levels of water in the soil, the agricultural plain of Faro is in a “tragic state”, declares a notice published by the Ministry of Agriculture and Environment and the Associação dos Agricultores do Concelho de Faro (Agricultural Association of Faro).

These entities monitor and evaluate the impact of drought. President of the Agricultural Association of Faro, Ana Lopes, when speaking about minimal rain fall in the fields where citrus fruits grow, said: “Even the lack of water in the leaves of citrus trees affects the quality and size of the fruit produced.

“Due to the lack of rain, oranges and tangerines are reduced in size, which has caused the fruit to be rejected by many purchasers and therefore local farmers are experiencing difficulties getting their produce to market.”

She added that supermarkets in particular are “very hard” buyers. Many trees have died off as a result of low rain fall and, in many cases, the quantity of fruit has been severely depleted – in some cases by as much as 50%; this has resulted in many farmers finding themselves financially stretched.

The latest report on agriculture released by the government indicates that the percentage of water in soil in the Alentejo and Algarve areas of Portugal is indicating values below 40%; this compared with values ranging between 60% and 90% in the regions north of the Montejunto-Estrela.

The lack of water run-off was also mentioned by Ana Lopes.  She pointed out that since construction of the Via do Infante (A22), which opened in 1991, the natural water run-off in some areas is no longer the norm. In certain areas in the south of the A22, for example from the banks of the Rio Seco, normal seepage would happen naturally prior to 1991, but the construction of the highway has prevented this, with pooling and puddles occurring instead.

For over two decades, the fields of Faro have produced a third of all fruit and vegetable production for Portugal, but today only a few dozen farmers remain. For these farmers, everyday life is becoming more and more challenging, with lower yields of fruit and other produce, trees and plants dying and a market which is becoming more sophisticated with its requirements.

Ana Lopes went on to play down the government’s decision to subsidise the electricity required by farmers to operate irrigation systems.

The new subsidy plan which was implemented the first two weeks of June will be addressed to all Portuguese farmers, no matter how much land they have or how much is produced from the land.

A spokesperson from the Regional Directorate of Agriculture in the Algarve told the Lusa news agency: “The future of ‘green’ electricity will be addressed with all Portuguese farmers, regardless of their land size, upon presentation of invoice, which will be subsidised at 40%.”