Spanish agriculture has become, in only few decades, a very productive agriculture, competitive on EU and world markets. But the side effects of this policy are considerable in social, economic and environmental terms. The translates in particular in the loss of 83 farms per day, a decline of farming population, land abandonment in some marginal areas, and land concentration. While the organic sector has also rapidly developed over the past decade, most of it is industrial organic farming.
Spanish agriculture is characterised by diversity, between types of production, farming models and regions. Andalusia has very large latifundia producing olives and employing day labourers. It also has intensive conventional and organic vegetable and fruit production under greenhouses in Almeria and Huelva. Castilla y Leon is a region of crop production. Catalonia has become one of the main European regions for livestock farming and is dominated by small to medium scale family farming.
At the same time, the whole of Spain has experienced the same evolution since the 1960s, marked by modernisation, mechanisation, specialisation and intensification of agricultural production. This evolution, led by the government, accelerated markedly with Spain’s accession to the EEC in 1986. The main objective of agricultural policy then was, not so much to ensure food security or support small-scale farming, as to strengthen the competitiveness of Spanish agriculture on EU and world markets. It partly rested on the resorting to cheap, Spanish or foreign day labourers. While this modernisation process took place in all Western European countries, it happened particularly quickly and intensely in Spain.
This policy resulted in an increase in food production, higher competitiveness, and development of exports. It also led to a steep decline of the farming population, land concentration, and loss of farmland. Thus, while there were 2.8 million farms in 1962, there were only 0.9 million left in 2009. Remaining farms have become bigger, more specialised, more mechanised and very integrated into agrofood chains.
Currently, the agricultural sector represents only 4% of the workforce in Spain. 61% of the farmers are over 55; together, they farm more than half the land. On the other hand, young farmers under 35 roughly account for 4% of the workforce of the sector and farm little more than 6% of the land.
In Spain, in just ten years, 300,000 small farms have disappeared – i.e. 83 farms/day or 3.5 farms/hour.
Catalonia is an autonomous region of North East of Spain of 32.000 km2 and 7.3 million inhabitants. It is a region of small and medium scale family farms, with a strong prevalence of cattle farming. Farmland represents 36% of the Catalan territory, with nearly 61.000 farms.
Catalonia has experienced the same evolution as the rest of Spain: the majority model is now that of medium size family farm integrated in the industrial agrofood chain. As a corollary, agricultural jobs have diminished: agricultural workers represented 1.9% in 2012, against 1.6% in 2001. In 2010, agriculture contributed to only 1% of the regional GDP. Between 1990 and 2010, a total of 53,000 farms have disappeared, in other words more than 2,600 farms/year or 7 farms/day.
One of the major changes of the last decades in Catalonia has been the rapid and drastic industrialisation of livestock farming. Forty years ago, livestock constituted only a small part of regional agriculture, scattered in numerous small farms characterised by self-consumption and low levels of yield and profitability. With the modernisation process, it became the first Catalan farming sector in terms of economic value and livestock volume. Catalonia thus became the epicentre of Spanish livestock farming, and one of the main livestock producers in the EU.
Farms’ integration in agrobusiness chains is the rule for the pork and chicken meat sectors, and more and more often for the beef and dairy sector. This intensive livestock farming is based on a high level of external inputs: fodder, pesticides, machinery, investment and capital. Such a model enables farmers to increase their volume of production and competitiveness on the markets. It also results in a high level of farmers’ indebtedness, high dependency on long supply-chains and CAP subsidies, environmental damage, and lower quality and safety risks for consumers.
Crop production in Catalonia is mostly linked to this livestock industry and also rests on intensive practices. Thus, irrigation is developing rapidly, as one of the central element in the modernisation process. About a third of cultivated area was irrigated in 2011, representing about two third of the economic value of crop production. Another element is the high use of transgenic production, particularly of corn. In 2012, 95% of the European Union area allocated to transgenic crops was in Portugal and Spain, and 25% was just for Catalonia.
Organic agriculture has flourished in the last decade. In 2011, Spain had 1.8 million hectares of organic farming, 50% more than in 2009, which makes it the first EU country in terms of organic acreage. This development is spurred in part by the new CAP, and in part because of increasing European demand and regional public policies.
The sector is mostly integrated into industrial farming. Organic livestock farming is rapidly developing (+17% from 2009 to 2010). Andalusia has become the first region for organic production in Europe. However, in Andalusia like in many parts of Spain, most new organic production is intensive and exported to other European countries. Andalusian greenhouse production thus is one of the main area for organic vegetable production for the EU.
In parallel, organic consumption has also increased rapidly (+16% from 2004 to 2012). The supermarket distribution sector is playing an important role, particularly as outlet for the production of long organic agrofood chains. About 60 to 70% of Spanish organic production is exported, while Spain imports around 20-30% of the organic food it consumes.
Catalonia is the second region in Spain for organic meat production, just after Andalusia. It is also the second region for organic food processing and agrofood industry.
Besides this rapid development of agroindustrial organic production, Catalonia also sees the rise of agroecology and related production, processing and marketing models: direct marketing and short supply chains, self-‐picking, diversification of productions, multi-‐activity, community-‐ based finance, etc. These experimentations have had a new impulse since 2008, with the social crisis and related mobilisations.
The last few years have thus seen an increase in bulk-buying groups and other community supported initiatives in Catalonia. There were at least 130 self-organised short food chains initiatives in 2012, mostly in the Barcelona metropolitan area12. In parallel, new organic farmers markets are appearing every month. There is a strong push from consumers to eat real food and to make a social contract with farmers in their area.
The rise of agroecology is connected with the rise of newcomers. While there are no official data, our practical experience shows that newcomers are on the rise in Catalonia. The School of Shepherds of Catalonia is the leading initiative supporting newcomers’ entry into farming.
Agricultural statistics for Spain:
Ministerio de Agricultura, Alimentación y Medio Ambiente (MAGRAMA)
Soler, C., Land Concentration in Spain, in Revista Soberanía Alimentaria, 2014 (in Spanish)
Agricultural statistics for Catalonia:
Departament d’Agricultura, Ramaderia, Pesca i Alimentació de la Generalitat de Catalunya
Statistics Institute of Catalonia (IDESCAT), in particular the study Els canvis en les explotacions agràries catalanes (1999-2007), 2009
Catalan Council of agro-ecological production (CCPAE), Generalitat de Catalunya, in particular the study Estadístiques del sector ecològic a Catalunya (2000-2013), 2013
Centre for Ecological Research and Forestry (CREAF)