Fri. Jan 21st, 2022

LAS MANCHAS DE ABAJO, Canary Islands (AP) – His home went first. Then his father built a house. Then the lottery booth and the hardware store he owned collapsed.

Eventually Antonio Álvarez had to watch as lava from a volcanic eruption slowly devoured the remaining pillar of his family’s wealth: the dozens of acres he dedicated to growing bananas in the Canary Islands, which for generations have provided the lifeblood of agriculture in the Atlantic archipelago.

“My father always said to me, ‘do not make the house too big, it will not make you money; invest in the banana! The bananas will give you a house. ‘ And that is true, ”Álvarez said. “When I filmed (the lava that destroyed) my father’s house, it was to see him die again. That house was part of him.”

Álvarez, 54, is one of thousands of farmers and workers on the Spanish island of La Palma, whose livelihoods have been jeopardized by the devastation of the volcano, which is still going on six weeks after the earth first broke up on the 19th. September.

The regional government of the Canary Islands, an archipelago of La Palma located off the coast of northwestern Africa, estimates that the volcano has already caused 100 million euros ($ 116 million) in losses to the island’s banana industry. Over 390 acres (158 acres) of land used for banana cultivation have been covered by molten rock, and more than 700 acres (300 acres) have been cut off after the roads on the west side of the island were surrounded by lava.

The Banana Growers’ Association for the Canary Islands, ASPROCAN, estimates that around 1,500 of the island’s 5,000 banana plantation owners have been injured. Most owners have small spots on a few acres. Many, like Álvarez, have seen their land burned and crushed. Others have lost the harvest because they cannot get to their trees. And many more have seen their product become insoluble due to the volcanic ash that has destroyed the banana peels.

It has been a shock wave for an industry that supplies 30% of the island’s economic life, according to regional government statistics. There are entire companies dedicated to packing and transporting the fruit, which along with tourism keeps La Palma going.

“They say it has wiped out 10% of the island’s economy. I think it’s more. It’s not just the bananas or the flats or the bed and breakfasts, it’s taken everything,” Álvarez said. with us, has happened to 90% of the population here. “

La Palma, an island of 85,000 inhabitants, is the second largest producer of bananas for the eight-member archipelago, which is 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Morocco. Last year, it produced 148,000 tonnes of local banana, most of which was shipped to mainland Spain. Although they are usually more expensive than imported bananas from Latin America and Africa, the smaller banana in the Canary Islands is often preferred because of its sweeter taste and more meaty texture.

The authorities have pledged financial support to help the sector and finance leave for workers. They have also promised to revise a law that says new land formed by the lava is state property.

Desalination plants have been sent in to supply the water-dependent banana trees in places where lava flows have destroyed the irrigation systems. The island’s government has asked the military to consider taking farmers in by boat to look after farms that have been isolated by the lava rivers.

However, the lava continues to spray out from the back of the Cumbre Vieja and threatens to expand and consume more land as it tumbles down towards the Atlantic Ocean, where a new patch of lava land is forming.

The house of farmer Jesús Pérez is still in danger, but for him the most important property he owns is already gone.

“I would have preferred to lose my house instead of my banana trees,” the 56-year-old Pérez said. “The trees give you life, the house gives you nothing. I have sacrificed my whole life, and for what, nothing?”

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Joseph Wilson reported from Barcelona.

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By Victor

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