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Enrique De los Ríos, General Director of the Spanish cooperative Unica:

"Spain is the world's leading fruit and veg producer, but it is not exercising that leadership"

In a meeting with the newspaper El Confidencial held in the framework of a food forum organized in Seville by Cooperativas Agro-Alimentarias de Andalucía, Enrique De los Ríos, General Director of Unica, one of the largest Spanish agro-food cooperatives and leader in the export of vegetables, with 500 million Euro in revenue in 2019, talked about the current protests of the Spanish agricultural sector. The firm brings together some fifteen cooperatives from Andalusia, Murcia, Valencia and Castile-La Mancha, with more than 5,000 horticulturists.

For De los Ríos, the problem is manifold. On the one hand, you have the producers. "Sometimes, they adopt a speculative attitude. If it suits them, they take the production to the alhondiga, and if it doesn't, to the cooperative. If they want support, their attitude must be one of co-responsibility and greater commitment to the organizations in the group ". Regarding the cooperatives themselves, the message is equally blunt. "We are fighting for small thrones and not joining forces. We have to follow the example of the Netherlands, but also of the US, where 35% of the production corresponds to cooperatives and they are more united than us in Spain."

Regarding public incentives for cooperative integration, De los Ríos is equally firm. "Neither mergers, nor investments in innovation nor internationalization processes are carried out for subsidies; they are based on convictions."

As for the responsibility that supermarkets have in the current situation, De los Ríos simply asked the chains for "greater sensitivity towards the producers," highlighting that "the atomization of agricultural producers spurs downward price competition between the distributors." He also warned that the supermarket groups themselves know that pushing down too much ends up hurting their own margins.

The director of Unica also reflected on the request for greater and better controls of the products arriving from outside Spain. De los Ríos was talking specifically about the situation with those coming from Morocco. "There are agreements establishing volume quotas which must be respected. If someone is re-labeling Moroccan products as Spanish, we must do something about it."

Lastly, he insisted on the idea that "we are the world's leading producer of fruits and vegetables. We could be setting the reference prices globally in these two sectors, and we are not. We are not exercising that leadership, unlike for example what California does with almonds."



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