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German strawberry boycott petition sparks anger in Spain

May 31, 2023

The future of a Spanish national park has pitted German consumers against strawberry growers. Germany is one of the biggest consumers of Spanish strawberries.

An water system in one of Huelva's many strawberry farms
The Andalusian regional government is planning to make it easier for farmers to divert water away from the Donana national park to their covered strawberry fieldsImage: Asociación Agricutlotres Puerta Doñana/dpa/picture alliance

A call by a German activist group to boycott strawberries grown near an environmentally fragile wetland in Spain drew criticism on Wednesday from berry growers in the southern province of Andalusia.

The activist group Campact said that strawberry farms close to the Donana national park had been illegally diverting water in order to irrigate their crops all year round, and called on German supermarkets to stop selling these "drought strawberries."

The petition comes as Spain's right-wing opposition party made gains in regional elections at the weekend, including in Andalusia.

The Popular Party (PP) is now planning to legalize the thus far illegal irrigation around the national park, despite warnings from scientists that the area is already drying out and in critical condition.

What did the German petition call for?

As of Wednesday, over 150,000 people had signed Campact's petition which stated that "illegal water theft" was threatening the "fragile ecosystem" of Donana national park.

Huelva, where the park is located, typically produces as much as 98% of red fruits in Spain and around 30% of the EU's crop.

The region is the largest exporter of strawberries in the world, a large volume of which goes to Germany. Campact argued that if German supermarket chains stopped selling these strawberries, then the industry would collapse and the national park "would still have a chance."

A skinny cow lays due to lack of food at the Donana Natural Park in Huelva
Spain, like the rest of Europe, has been suffering for increasingly severe drought in recent yearsImage: Adri Salido/AA/picture alliance

But an association of growers denied that farmers were illegally using water from the park, nor that they were using large amounts. It also said that most farms were not close enough to the park to use its irrigation. It added that farmers also used cutting-edge techniques for efficient water usage.

Madrid and Huelva battle over future of Donana

The struggle between the continued production of berries in the ever-drier region and the continued existence of the national park and its ecosystems has also been a source of contention between the right-wing PP and the center-left government in Madrid.

PP, along with the far-right Vox party, had already put forward a bill to legalize the diversion of water from part of the park.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez tweeted support for the survival of the park, saying "Denialism is ruining our environment and running the risk of ruining local economies. Let's save Donana."

A flat dry landscape in the Donana national park
The Donana wetlands are less and less living up to their name thanks to drought and water extractionImage: Jan-Uwe Ronneburger/dpa/picture alliance

The president of Andalusia's regional government, Juanma Moreno hit back, saying "The manipulation has gotten out of hand. Speaking badly about Andalusia and its farmers in Europe has its consequences. They are risking the livelihood of thousands of families."

But Teresa Ribera, minister for the ecological transition, said that the German boycott petition made it clear that Moreno must withdraw the bill to legalize irrigation from Donana.

The recent local elections that marked a rightward shift across Spain also handed PP control over the province of Huelva for the first time in its history.

Sanchez called snap general elections in response to the local defeat, they're set to take place in July. 

ab/msh (Reuters, EFE)