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Some good news, at last

July 4, 2011 – 9:43 am

Tomatoes from Nijar in Almeria, the top product of Andalucia's key exporting province.

I am writing this wearing an item of clothing with sleeves. For the first time in weeks. Yes, the temperatures here in Andalucia gave us a break this weekend, with the thermometer falling to a wonderful 32 degrees. In this weather, you can sleep comfortably without air-con (we don’t have it anyway), walk outside without nearly passing out from the heat, and move about without breaking into a sweat. Everyone’s in a better mood, that listlessness brought on by oppressive heat lifts, and generally life seems much less hard work. Last night, the kids even said they were cold when we were having dinner outside, and asked for more clothes! In July!

Apparently the usual high-30s will be back on tomorrow, so let’s enjoy it while it lasts. And staying on a positive note, I saw this morning that the figures for unemployment in Andalucia last month actually went down – by 0.2%, but down nonetheless. This is partly due to the arrival of summer, with more people in seasonal, tourism-related work. And house prices are down even more, falling by 1.86% in June. Hopefully those who can actually pay their mortgage will be able to buy their own home now.

But the first piece of good news, which got me thinking it was time to an “it’s not all bad, honest!” -type blog post, was about vegetable exports.

Andalucia’s main two industries are tourism and, yes, vegetables. Largely, all those invernaderos (plastic tunnels) in Almeria. Ugly they may be, but they prop up our economy – to an extent I wasn’t aware of until the other day. The far south-eastern province of Andalucia, and the bottom right-hand corner of the entire Iberian peninsula, produces a staggering 85% of all the region’s exports. In the four months from January to April (before the German organic cucumber panic), Almeria exported two million tons of fresh veg and legumes, worth nearly 2,000 million euros. And who is its biggest customer? Germany, accounting for a quarter of sales.

The main export product of Almeria is tomatoes, followed by peppers, cucumbers, courgettes and aubergines. Everything you need to make gazpacho, pistou, ratatouille, or a vegetable parrillada. Such is its importance, on a national scale as well as regional, that Almeria accounts for 43% of the volume of all Spanish exports.

But what really caught my attention was that in this first trimester, January to April 2011, Almeria’s exports had grown by 28%. Spain and growth are not two words you often hear in the same sentence referring to anything economic (except unemployment).

So there we go – we have yet to see the export figures for after the German panic, which caused a lot of damage to the agricultural sector, but such positive figures surely give a glimmer of hope. If such a booming industry can recover its position in the European vegetable market, and Almeria’s farmers can get back to where they were before they were (wrongly) blamed for the Ecoli outbreak, this reassuringly healthy sector of our regional economy can give us something positive to focus on.

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