Posted on 04 December 2007
WWF efforts around Spanish strawberries encourage changes that will help restore wildlife habitat, improve water use efficiencies and raise consumer awareness.
The regional government of Andalusia in Spain has approved a Special Plan to re-organize the lands used for strawberry farming in Doñana, based on a 2006 proposal by WWF. Before strawberry farming began in Doñana, natural forests in the area connected Doñana National and Nature Parks with inland ecosystems. However, the growth of strawberry farming led to the clearance of large areas of Doñana forest, blocking the corridors for wild species. The new Plan should help restore the corridors.
Much of the earlier expansion in farming was done through an illegal use of lands. WWF-Adena found about 450 ha of greenhouses illegally located inside the protected areas of the Natura 2000 Network, 2,173 ha in public forests and some in Protected Natural Areas.
Some 35% of local creeks were found to be occupied or damaged by the agricultural activities. Farmers also illegally bored holes to access groundwater resources for irrigating their crops. 50% of the strawberry fields use water illegally. Out of 1,400 wells in the area, only 10% have water abstraction permits for the water they use. This uncontrolled water use already had a direct relation with the alarming groundwater depletion of the aquifer around La Rocina creek, one of the main suppliers of water to the Doñana National Park marshes, which over the last 30 years suffered a water depletion rate of 50%. Lagoons and vegetation that require high soil humidity (e.g. cork oaks) also disappeared. If nothing is done, the area will approach ecological collapse.
In response, WWF took a number of actions which triggered a multi-year process of change and success. In May 2006, WWF-Spain published a proposal for ecological corridors in northwest Doñana to reconnect Doñana lands with other valuable ecosystems inland. Some 1,000 ha of strawberry fields (most illegally created) out of a total of 6,000 ha now being cultivated would be relocated in less sensitive areas to make room for the corridors. This proposal was presented to water, farming and environment authorities and discussed with local stakeholders during the public participation meetings of the Doñana Sustainable Development Plan.
In September 2006, WWF-Spain started an irrigation pilot project in Doñana to prove the possibility of increasing the efficient use of water in strawberry cultivation. The result was water savings of 20%.
In January 2007, WWF-Netherlands and Albert Heijn, the largest supermarket chain in the Netherlands, agreed to work with each other and Doñana farmers to change Doñana strawberry farming. This included Albert Heijn requiring new conditions (or ‘protocols’) developed by WWF for strawberry purchases from Doñana such as the legal use of land and water, efficient use of water and integration of the fields with the surrounding environment.
In March 2007, WWF invited journalists from across Europe to Doñana. The result was widespread media coverage and raised consumer awareness across the continent. Consumers were encouraged to link the strawberries they eat with how they are farmed and affect the environment. They also found out about the environmental challenges still faced by strawberry farming in Doñana.
“This is a clear example of how wise decisions in the supermarket can have a direct positive impact on the environment,” says Eva Hernandez, Doñana Coordinator for WWF-Spain. “But wise decisions can only be made if good information is provided by the supermarkets.” (More about the OEMN Doñana project)