Algarve oranges squeezed in drought crisis

Algarve is running out of oranges

“There are no oranges to stock up large supermarkets; the rupture is also affecting the customary sale of orange juice”.

This is the gist of the opening paragraph on SIC Notícias today which refers to the “small Algarve crisis”, which is actually quite a big one: the Algarve is responsible for 90% of Portugal’s orange production; orange trees need a lot of water (much more than avocados, for example) and with the drought, this has been nigh impossible.

Even with irrigation, producers cannot make up for the lack of natural rainwater in their orchards. Whatever trees have produced this year is generally smaller, less in number – and certainly nothing like as juicy.

Producers have said (like livestock farmers) that they ‘have never seen anything like it’: a summer with so many days of heat, a winter with so little in the way of rain – and then the added frustration of cuts in water supplies for irrigation purposes; tighter controls on the use of boreholes, etc etc.

The cumulative results of so much adversity are that since the end of July, “there are practically no more oranges in the Algarve”.

Normally, orange production would keep suppliers stocked to the end of September.

In the ‘old days’, people will tell, you they used to see ‘hundreds of oranges left on the ground…’

It has all changed. Says José Oliveira of ALGAR ORANGE – the association of Algarve citrus operators: “The Algarve orange for large-scale distribution is finished. There may be an orchard here and there with some fruit, but it won’t be enough to supply large chains…”

Imports too are down, because of “falls in production of African oranges and phytosanitary restrictions imposed by the European Union. Without alternatives, the scarcity on the market is leading to prices increasing.” Suppliers have seen prices triple, which is why, if you fancy a nice cool glass of fresh orange juice, you are likely to be surprised by how much it costs.

Says SIC, with production in a good year reaching 370,000 tonnes, the Algarve is looking with apprehension at the coming months.

“If next month isn’t rainy, there will be many orchards with great difficulties. They could literally dry out”, admits José Oliveira, who explains that many are already on ‘survival watering’ – watering in order to keep the trees alive (nothing to do with expecting further oranges).

This “small crisis” (SIC’s words) comes as Público publishes a report suggesting the Algarve and the Alentejo could end up “losing 5% of their tourists” in the near future, because of the searing summer temperatures that are now marking holidays in high summer.

Público goes as far as to say that, in a future marked by climate change, August will stop being the month in which most people make their holidays – and months like April and May will become the most popular.

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