The competition in the international market from countries such as Turkey, Egypt or Morocco, the impact of pests, the rising production costs, and now a possible Brexit are some of the difficulties that the Canary tomato production sector is going through.
The figures reported by the Provincial Federation of Associations of Exporters of Fruit and Vegetable Products of Las Palmas (Fedex) show the development of the sector in recent years. In 1999, 352,000 tons were exported, compared to just over 50,000 in the latest campaign. Of the 16,000 jobs that the sector generated 15 years ago, less than 6,000 remain. From half a hundred companies at the time, only seven resist (for now). Lastly, the acreage has been reduced from about 3,000 hectares to just 500.
The cost of transportation to ship the tomatoes to the Peninsula or Europe is an added factor. While a peninsular tomato arrives to a country like the Netherlands in a little more than two days, Canary growers need five, as a part of the trip has to be made by boat, which also entails numerous expenses.
The presence of a higher number of competitors has been pushing sales prices and the profit margins down. A whitefly pest caused a new decline in 2008, and a dispute with the State forced producers to return 14 million Euro in transport aid they had received in 2002. The Tuta absoluta pest of 2015, or the recent rise of the minimum wage, which has brought production costs up by 23%, have put the sector under added pressure, and Brexit could be the last nail in the coffin.
In recent weeks, producers and the Government have been holding frequent meetings in order to agree on a strategy to be argued before the Central Executive and the EU. The Councilor of Agriculture of the Government of the Canary Islands, Alicia Vanoostende, said that “we are working on the preparation of a dossier that will be presented to the Ministries of Agriculture, Development and Foreign Affairs, outlining the reality in the Canary Islands and arguing for the need to maintain the aid to the sector.”
One of the main objectives is to maintain the aid to transport that would be lost due to the United Kingdom's exit from the EU. And although Brexit is the most urgent issue, the Councilor acknowledges that we must look ahead. She said that it is necessary for the sector to work together to facilitate the creation of a protected designation of origin, like the one of Canary bananas.