In the framework of the Zitrus project, 1,132 hectares of conventional orange farms in Andalusia, located in several municipalities of Seville, Huelva and Córdoba, have been transformed into environmental management models, minimizing their water and natural resource footprint.
"Our project has arisen from the cooperation between WWF Germany and Edeka, the main German supermarket, which chose Andalusia for one of its flagship products: oranges and mandarins," says Felipe Fuentelsaz, coordinator of the initiative. “The agreement has been motivated by the demand from European consumers for these sustainable products, as they have an environmental and social mentality. In Spain, prices are more important than quality for consumers. That is why our country has very few large supermarkets that are clearly committed to sustainability in the supply chain.”
One of Edeka's main suppliers of oranges was the Sevillian company Iberhanse, with its model farm El Esparragal. Felipe says that “the project was launched in 2014 together with WWF Germany and was later expanded with 14 farms in Seville and Córdoba, in the Guadalquivir basin, and another in Huelva. This project is unique, because it focuses on four points at the same time: the efficient and legal use of water, the elimination of the most toxic agrochemicals for the protection of health and biodiversity, the recovery of the fertility of the soil and the integration of biodiversity in the plantations,” he says. "We have experts in water, biodiversity, pesticides and good agricultural practices who monitor the farms on a day-to-day basis with a very exhaustive control of what happens on them."
The training of the producers taking part in the project also plays a crucial role. “Apart from the weekly visit of the experts to the farms, the project offers them an annual training plan with eight very practical sessions on biodiversity (water, soil, good agricultural practices and biodiversity). The main citrus companies nationwide are willing to take part in a project like this, but we have to grow little by little,” he says.
How is sustainable agriculture on your farms?
“All the farms in the project use irrigation water legally and have to reduce the permitted volume by at least 8%. They cannot use pesticides like glyphosate or highly toxic insecticides; this applies also to borders, ways or streams. Nature needs to be allowed to act, and if it doesn't do so, the least harmful products are used," says Felipe." We also allow weeds to grow so that auxiliary insects have food and shelter."
"In the irrigated ponds, floating nests are placed so that aquatic birds can proliferate. And in the plantations, perches are placed with boxes for birds of prey that control the rabbits or moles," he says. "We are showing that it is absolutely possible to produce high quality oranges in a sustainable way, without losing performance or production and respecting our natural resources,” he says.