Archive for the ‘tuta’ Category

Attack of the tuta in Almeria, Spain

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

The story of the province of Almeria, Spain is a little bit like Steven Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods. In the first act (Spoiler Alert!), everything goes right, Cinderella gets to go to the king’s festival and everybody lives happily ever after. In the second act, everything goes wrong, poor people get trampled by giants and the same characters live in eternal fear.

Almeria’s first act is the happy tale of two seas: the Mediterranean on one hand, and the “sea of plastic” on the other. The former offers beaches for tourists. The latter displays miles and miles of white “hothouses,” ever since someone discovered that the reverberation of the sun on the sand makes for highly productive growing of grapes and other fruit and vegetables. The fruit and vegetable industry has been growing steadily in Almeria since then. Since water is at a premium in this quasi-Saharan landscape, agriculture takes place in the hothouses, large fabric covered greenhouses that are complete with streets and are vaguely reminiscent of studio lots in Hollywood.

Given the rapid expansion of this new style of farming in Almeria, early practices were, as you might expect, not exactly sustainable, and some producers got into trouble (with environmentalists, with the government) for their uncontrolled use of pesticides. Recognizing the challenges posed by their growth and pesticide use, Almeria shifted its practices and became green – to the point where the area is known today as a global role-model for the use of beneficials, (i.e., good insects that destroy bad ones). Everybody’s happy: the producers who create new wealth; the consumers who enjoy tasty fruit and vegetables grown in sustainable fashion; and regulators who proudly show that everybody can get along, even with stringent regulation restricting the use of chemical pesticides.

And now for the troubled second act in Almeria. The tuta absoluta have arrived. The tuta absoluta is a creepy little bug imported from Latin America that attacks tomatoes and other fruit and vegetables (the name looks like it was created by some producer of schlock videos, doesn’t it, as in tuta absoluta vs. transformers). The war is raging as we speak, and the tuta is winning. The tomatoes I saw on my visit are so sad-looking you wouldn’t want to eat them – even as ketchup.

Additionally, it turns out beneficials are ineffective against tuta (“beneficials have gone to the beach with the tourists”, a farmer told me). The farmers are irate at the government for not letting them revert to the old chemicals that could control the tuta. They are angry at the pesticide producers for not coming back with magic new products, or not lobbying their government effectively enough to re-allow the old chemicals. Manufacturers point out local farmers often fail to show up at regulatory meetings, making pesticide manufacturers look like they are shamelessly promoting their old wares without intrinsic need. As for consumers and large retailer chains, they do not seem ready to move to a less than spotless or perfectly shaped tomato. And so everybody is mad at each other.

One might call what happened in Almeria a giant failure at co-creation (where’s the dialogue, where’s the transparency, how can we reduce the looming risk that tuta poses?). How the story will unfold is anybody’s guess, and one of the key issues is who has legitimacy to organize the co-creative process between the constituencies.

Perhaps the most touching song of Into the Woods lies at the end of the show. It is entitled Children Will Listen, and suggests that the legacy of the woods, whether good or bad, will be passed on to future generations. In Almeria as well, children will listen.