Insects replace pesticides in Spain’s ‘Sea of Plastic’

Published on Jul 24, 2019 10:48 AM IST
“Sea of Plastic” is a 30,000 hectares cluster of greenhouses in south-eastern Spain’s Almeria province, where much of Europe’s fruits and vegetables are grown.
Spanish farmer Antonio Zamora works at his pepper plant's greenhouse in Dalias, near El Ejido on July 1, 2019. - For over a decade, Spanish farmer Antonio Zamora no longer puts on a suit to spray his crops with insecticides but instead hangs small bags of mites on his plants which attack parasites while sparing the plants. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)(AFP)
Spanish farmer Antonio Zamora works at his pepper plant's greenhouse in Dalias, near El Ejido on July 1, 2019. - For over a decade, Spanish farmer Antonio Zamora no longer puts on a suit to spray his crops with insecticides but instead hangs small bags of mites on his plants which attack parasites while sparing the plants. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)(AFP)
Almeria (Spain) | By

“They work for me night and day,” smiles Antonio Zamora, standing in his greenhouse. His minuscule employees are bugs that feed on the parasites threatening his peppers.

Zamora, like most of his colleagues, no longer sprays his crops with pesticides, instead hanging small bags of mites on the plants, leaving them to attack parasites while sparing his produce.

He owns two hectares (five acres) in the so-called “Sea of Plastic”, some 30,000 hectares of greenhouses in southeastern Spain’s Almeria province, where much of Europe’s fruits and vegetables are grown.

The sparkling mosaic of white plastic bordering the Mediterranean -- which is visible from space -- produces tomatoes, cucumbers, courgettes, peppers and aubergines all year round to supply Europe’s supermarkets.

Last year 2.5 million tonnes of produce was exported from Almeria, half of Spain’s total vegetable exports.

Like Zamora, virtually all pepper growers in Almeria have replaced insecticides with so-called “biological control” using insects.

About 60 percent of tomato growers have done the same, along with a quarter of courgette producers, according to the producers’ association Coexphal.

Consumption of insecticides in Almeria -- where agriculture employs some 120,000 people and accounts for 20 percent of economic output -- has dropped by 40 percent since 2007, according to local authorities.

A TRILLION INSECTS

The use of insecticides surged in the 1960s, but farmers have adopted new methods under pressure from consumer groups as well as the fact that their crops have become increasingly resistant to the chemicals.

“We have had to change course. The use of pesticides became excessive,” said Jan van der Blom, an expert in biocontrol at Coexphal.

Encarnacion Samblas of environmental group Ecologists in Action described the change as a “very positive step”.

“In many cases the reduction in the use of chemical products has been drastic, and the substances that are still in use are softer,” she said.

French agricultural cooperative InVivo, which has yearly sales of 5.5 billion euros ($6.2 billion), recently opened a “biofactory”, Bioline Iberia, in the heart of the Sea of Plastic.

Inside hermetically closed rooms with tightly controlled temperature and humidity levels, employees raise four species of mites to be sold in the region as well as in Portugal and Morocco.

The company projects production of a trillion insects this year.

Several other factories of the same type have sprung up in recent years around the Sea of Plastic, and roughly 30 firms sell insects, at steadily decreasing prices.

“Spain can be considered the largest area in Europe and perhaps the world in terms of the use of biological control,” said Bioline Iberia director Federico Garcia.

CHEMICALS STILL PREVALENT

But the road to truly green farming remains long, said Samblas of Ecologists in Action, noting that many farmers still use fungicides and various other substances to disinfect soils.

“Farmers continue to use chemicals in a not very rational way, because they are recommended, they are sold to them. Often they use them as a routine, without really knowing why,” she said.

Even “organic” greenhouses -- with 2,000 hectares certified as such or seeking the label -- often pay little heed to biodiversity or fail to take proper care of the soil, the ecologist said.

She noted that European regulations on these issues are lacking.

An increase in the amount of land used for farming has put pressure on water resources in an arid region, Samblas added.

Agronomist Jose Manuel Torres warned that year-round farming methods favour the growth of parasites, arguing that the region should halt production during the summer.

Samblas noted another problem: old greenhouse plastics often find their way into the Mediterranean.

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Close Story
QUICKREADS

Less time to read?

Try Quickreads

  • File Photo (From left ) Ukraine President Zelensky, U.N. Cheif Gueterres, Turkish President Erdogan

    U.N. Chief Guterres to meet Erdogan, Zelensky to review grain exports | 5 points

    U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in Ukraine on Thursday, with grain exports and concerns about the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant to top the agenda. Erdogam and Zelensky to meet first time since invasion The meeting will mark as the first between Erdogan and Zelensky since the Russia Ukraine crisis. On Saturday, he will travel on to the Joint Coordination Centre in Istanbul.

  • FILE - Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, talks to the media regarding the coronavirus at the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, 

    'Living with Covid doesn't mean....': WHO chief as deaths rise by 35% in 4 weeks

    With the pandemic in its third year, it has been repeated multiple times by leaders and experts that the world has to learn to live with Covid. But in a warning against dropping guards, WHO chief Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus has said that this does not mean that “we pretend it's not there”. “It means we use all the tools we have to protect ourselves, and protect others,” he said.

  • FILE PHOTO: Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan during an interview.

    Pak ‘descending into Banana Republic': Imran Khan after aide's arrest

    Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan further accused the ruling PML-N's Nawaz Sharif, her daughter Maryam, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and PPP leader Asif Zardari for targeting the state institutions 'in the worst way possible', and still getting away 'without even a hint of a reprimanPakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader Shahbaz Gill, a close aide of Imran Khanan, was arrested last week in Islamabad for allegedly making controversial remarks against the Pakistan Army on a private TV channel, local media outlet GeoNews reported.

  • FILE - A sign for monkeypox vaccinations is shown at a vaccination site.

    Mutation behind monkeypox spread? WHO’s reply; Roman numerals in clades' names

    The world saw 7,500 new monkeypox cases last week, a 20 per cent surge compared to the previous week, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday, giving the latest updates on the virus that has triggered concern globally. With the latest spike, the global monkeypox tally has passed the 35,000-mark and 12 deaths have so far been reported; the virus has spread to 92 countries and territories.

  • Parwati Sunar, 27, sings the national anthem of Nepal while attending an assembly at Jeevan Jyoti secondary school in Punarbas, Kanchanpur district, southwest Nepal.

    Nepali woman's quest to learn takes her back to school with son

    A Nepali mother of two, Parwati Sunar finds herself attending the same school as her son after returning to an education system she fled at the age of 15, when she eloped with a man seven years her senior. "I think I should not have left my school," she said, explaining the desire to catch up on the lessons she missed, having had her first child at 16.

SHARE
Story Saved
×
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Thursday, August 18, 2022
Start 15 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now