Can British farmers learn from their counterparts in southern Spain to spit out Brussels’ poisoned sweets? Joe Zammit-Lucia and Astrid Vargas write.
The high plains of Andalusia in southern Spain are dry and arid. The land is heavily degraded through years of agricultural practice that have shorn the soil of any kind of fertility. Expensive and polluting chemicals now provide the main source of soil nutrition. Walking among the almond groves means walking on dry, unfertile land with more stone and rock than topsoil.
The local economy is dying. It is one of the poorest areas in Europe. Young people flee to find what employment they can in cities. Towns and villages are becoming de-populated. The economy survives on subsidies from the Spanish government and from the EU through the Common Agricultural Policy. At the same time the policy does not allow local farmers to add value to their crops.
Santiaga Sánchez, a local sheep farmer, sees subsidies as “caramelos envenenados” – poisoned sweets. “Subsidies have kept us going but they have robbed us of all dignity in our work,” she says. One doesn’t have to go to Spain to find such sentiments. A farmer in Somerset who supplements his income by driving a taxi, put it like this: “I have never taken any subsidies – though I am eligible. Once they give you subsidies they control your whole life”.