This is a cross-curricular module which introduces aspects of Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) into the geographical study of places and processes in Europe
Where are the main strawberry production areas in Spain, why are they here, and how do EU trade and citizenship policies help the industry?
What are the potential consequences of strawberry production?
The production of strawberries for the winter stocking of supermarkets in the EU has become big business for Spain since the 1980s. Over 90% of this production takes place in the SW corner of the country, in the Huelva region. This area has a Mediterranean climate, meaning that the summers are hot and dry with long hours of sunshine and the winters are mild and wet. The climate is tempered by warm breezes from the Mediterranean sea. The region is nick-named Costa De La Luz - the coast of light due to the amount of sunshine. This of course, makes it ideal for growing strawberries, which are cultivated in long plastic tunnels. Peak growing season is April to May and some 330,000 tonnes of strawberries are grown each year.
Strawberry production is a highly intensive form of agriculture due to the high input of labour required. Some of this is domestic, i.e. Spanish workers. However, in recent years more and more labour has been carried out by ‘guest workers' doing seasonal jobs, usually sourced and employed through specialised agencies. There have been up to 30,000 people employed in the region each year in recent years. Schemes like SAWS - The Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme, make it possible for EU citizens to work for short periods in other EU countries.
This type of agricultural work is often considered as a three D job - the three Ds are those which are Dirty, Dangerous or Difficult. Countries often find it hard to obtain this type of labour from their domestic stock. However, it often upsets local people if they feel that their jobs are being taken by foreign workers. (See lesson two - Poles apart on the recent UK wildcat strikes.) Further information about migrant workers in the Spanish strawberry industry can be found on the Migration News website.
The strawberry industry is vital to the economy of the region, a largely rural region with many small-scale farmers dependent on it. It provides jobs for local people, even despite the growth in the number of migrant workers employed. However, there are potential impacts which are of some concern, especially to environmentalists. The issue of plastic waste is raised in this BBC News article which quotes some 4,500 tonnes of plastic waste related to the industry. It also mentions pesticide pollution. The transport of strawberries to overseas markets also has environmental implications.
By far the biggest concern in this region of Spain, however, is the effect on the ecosystem itself - both through clearance for production in the first place, and the extraction of water for irrigation once it's underway.
Doñana National Park (Parque Nacional de Doñana), is a national park and wildlife refuge in southwestern Spain in the provinces of Huelva and Seville. It covers an area of 543 km², 135 km² of which lies within a protected area with World Heritage Site status. Further information about the area's World Heritage Site status can be viewed on the UNESCO website.
Doñana National Park is one of Europe's most important wetland reserves, comprising three distinct kinds of ecosystem: the marismas (marshlands), the Mediterranean scrublands and the coastal mobile dunes with their beaches. Within it lies the Guadalquivir River Delta region which flows into the Atlantic Ocean. It has a biodiversity that is unique in Europe, containing a great variety of wildlife that includes thousands of European and African migratory birds (up to 500,000 wintering fowl each year), fallow deer, Spanish red deer, wild boar, European badger, and endangered species such as the Spanish Imperial Eagle, Egyptian mongoose and Iberian Lynx. One of the largest Mediterranean heronries is located here.
In terms of flora, a variety of virgin habitats support a huge array of vegetation, including large expanses of stone pines and Mediterranean scrublands with narrow leaved cistus heather, mastic tree, rosemary, cistus scrub, glasswort, red lavender, rosemary and thyme inland. There are also junipers and forests of cork oaks, vital for huge numbers of nesting birds. In spring the marshlands are a carpet of flowers - amongst them lavender, tree heaths, gladioli, irises and rock roses.
Areas of wetland have been dramatically reduced, largely due to clearance for agriculture. The area has become more populated and more settlements and people have bought problems of wildlife disturbance and road kills, and pollution due to agricultural effluent.
Irrigation is a major threat - it is claimed that it has reduced ground water levels in the park by up to 50%. Illegal wells are also a huge problem. This article on the Independent website claims that there may be up to 1,300 illegal boreholes.
The WWF has long been campaigning to clean up and preserve the park and its precious environment. Some further information can be obtained on their website by searching for ‘Coto Doñana'.
Fancy a strawberry?
In this lesson, you will be investigating trade, work and environmental issues in the EU through the case study of strawberry production in southern Spain.
Take a look at the fancy a strawberry PowerPoint presentation. It will give you some facts about strawberry production in Spain. Pay attention to the presentation as there is a quiz for you to complete at the end, which will test how much you have remembered.
Once you have completed the quiz, use what you have learnt to write a paragraph about the strawberry industry in Spain, including its location, which countries the strawberries are exported to, and the role of migrant workers in strawberry production.
Fresas españolas - Spanish strawberries
Have a go at the interactive activity which introduces some key words for the lesson - in Spanish.
Causes and consequences
Now that you know a bit about strawberry production in Spain, you will spend a bit of time finding about the potential impacts of the industry.
The causes and consequences worksheet sets out two tasks for you to complete.
In the first task, you will match a set of statements about the strawberry industry with their possible social, economic and environmental consequences. Some of the statements have positive consequences, some have negative consequences.
Once you have matched up the statements with their consequences, you can shade them in different colours according to whether they are positive or negative.
For the second task, you will research these possible consequences in a bit more detail by looking at the case study of the Coto de Doñana National Park. This is a wetland World Heritage Site in southern Spain that is being affected by strawberry production in the area.
The worksheet suggests two websites for you to look at to find out more about the National Park:
The Wikipedia website entry for the Coto de Doñana National Park
The Andalucia.com website
Following this, you will look into the impacts that strawberry production is having on the National Park using these three articles:
‘How the thirst for strawberries is draining Spain's precious water' (The Independent 14/02/07)
‘Call for Spain strawberry boycott' (BBC News website 16/03/07)
‘New plan to save Doñana highlight of global wetlands celebration' (WWF website 02/02/09)
Using these websites, your task is to write a speech to convince people that strawberry production in southern Spain is damaging the fragile environment of the Coto de Doñana National Park. More details of what your speech should contain are given on the worksheet.
Strawberry fields forever?
Read out your speeches to the class, highlighting the main impacts of the strawberry industry on this region of Spain.
Your class could finish the lesson with a discussion about whether strawberry production should be allowed to continue here, or whether we should boycott Spanish strawberries.
What do you think?
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