Xàbia : Facts and Anecdotes / Part II ... Did you know that the cultivation of citrus in Xàbia is relatively recent compared to that of vines and olives ?
Although there had already been plantations in the Kingdom of Valencia by the end of the 18th century, it was only in the 1920s that plantations of citrus appeared in Xàbia. Over the decades they gradually increased and by the 60s it was a thriving agricultural branch. There were, and still are, two main areas of cultivation. One starts behind the Arenal in the Pla area and goes westwards up to the Benitachell road, with the Rio Gorgos on the northern border and the Cami Cabanes on its southern. The other is the region of Les Valls, between the Carreteras de Gata and Jesus Pobre.
The major citrus fruits planted here are oranges and clementines. Grapefruit is very minimal due to low demand, and lemons are not cultivated in Xàbia. There are two categories of oranges : the naranja blanca - white orange - which is used for juice, and the Washingtonia for the table. In the 50s, and approximately up until the 70s, mainly juice oranges were planted : salustiana, cadenera and also the sanguina or the blood orange.These were exported to France and Italy. Then from the 70s onwards several types of Washingtonia oranges were grown, replacing the cadenera and the sanguina.Today in Xàbia, there are mainly two types of juice oranges and four types of table oranges so that oranges can be had from November to June. Four different kinds of clementine are also grown here, harvested between November and May.
Orange trees need much care and water. Until the end of the 70s the method of irrigation was that which the Moors had introduced so many centuries ago.This is the „ a manta „ system, a canal-system in which the land is flooded. This uses a massive amount of water. In the 60s, when the Canal de la Fontana was being built, they had to perforate, hence disrupt, the protective layer between groundwater and sea water. This allowed the sea water to enter so that a large number of wells whose water was being used for irrigation, became salty. This, combined with longer periods of drought in the 70s and 80s, during which the ground water level fell - allowing even more sea water to enter - caused many trees to die and several plantations had to be abandoned. At the same time, tourism was on the rise, increasing the price of land and many then preferred to sell their land.
With such scarcity of water, a new irrigation system had to be found. Towards the end of the 70s the drip irrigation was introduced (goteo). Some say that it´s use here in Xàbia was the first time in Spain ! So far it has proven to be most effective. Each orange tree gets an average of 6 emitters, each one giving four litres of water per hour. In summer the irrigation system is turned on for 3-4 hours every night. Many farmers have wells on their land from where the water is taken. Those who don´t, have to buy well-water from a company.
Orange trees are work-intensive all year round. Once the fruit has been harvested, the trees need to be pruned. They have to be fertilized at regular intervals. This is done via the ground, but also via spraying onto the leaves for quicker absorption. Dealing with disease and pests is a particular challenge, especially since the more effective but dangerous pesticides are now prohibited in Europe. The citrus mealybug ( cotonet ) and the white fly ( mosca blanca ) are the most difficult to get rid of, but also the red spider mite and the cochineal bug are stubborn pests.. And among the many diseases plaguing the orange tree, the most persistent are the fungi.
A constant battle for the farmers !
And now the battle has to be waged on other fronts too. In the last few years there has been a 30% increase in citrus imports from South Africa, Turkey, Egypt and Morocco. Mainly due to low wages, these countries can offer considerably lower prices. A worker in South Africa gets paid approximately € 1,20 a DAY- with longer working hours- while in Spain he is paid the minimum wage of €12 an HOUR ! In addition, in Spain they must adhere to much stricter regulations which make for higher costs. This year a kilo of oranges fetched only 12 cents. The mighty retailers dictate the price. In the past six months the price of energy, petrol, fertilizers and pesticides has surged so exceedingly that there is barely any margin left. Each year there are farmers abandoning their plantations. The situation is so critical now that one wonders, will Xàbia - or even the Comunidad Valenciana for that matter - still have its beautiful citrus plantations in the years to come ?
For there is no real support nor solidarity coming from either central nor local authorities. Laws, that protect the interests of the farmers, are not being made, or only half-heartedly. A new law was passed this past June requiring cold-treatment for all citrus coming from non-EU countries. This is to prevent insects like the false codling moth ( falsa polilla ) from being brought into Spain and will at the same time increase costs for these countries, easing slightly the competition for the farmers. However, laws need to be passed that ensure fair pricing for the farmers. While the consumer´s price of citrus is rising, this is not reaching the farmer.
There are associations in the Comunidad Valenciana like the Unio de Llauradors and the Asociación Valenciana de Agricultores - Asociación Agraria de Jovenes Agricultores ( AVA-ASAJA ) which represent the interests of agricultural and livestock farmers. For the past 15 years Juan Antonio Miñana, a long-time citrus farmer, is the delegate of the latter in Xàbia. Although there are some 200 members of this association in Xàbia alone, only 10 or so are full-time citrus farmers, a number that has been dwindling since the 1980s. Unfortunately, there is no Spain-wide network, for these associations to carry any real weight and the farmers have every reason to feel left alone in their struggle for existence. Sad to say, even the Ayuntamiento of Xàbia has turned its back since the 80s to agrarian development, giving its preference to tourism.
If the situation does not change soon for the farmers, we can be sure that within the next 10 years there will be no spring-time orange blossom perfumes in the air of Xàbia and the orange could possibly even lose its status as symbol of the Comunidad Valenciana !
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