The increasing cultivation of subtropical fruits

Spain is today the largest European exporter of subtropical fruits: the number of acres devoted to this crop has increased in recent years due to the global rise of consumption. Fruits such as custard apple, avocado or mango are no longer unknown to consumers and thus have become a common product in shopping carts. Currently, Spain is the European country with most soil surface devoted to these booming crops. Its main markets are now countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom.

A tropical fruit is defined as a fruit of tropical or subtropical climate, that can not withstand the cold, furthermore can be damaged or have development difficulties when the temperature drops below four degrees. The European Union’s production of subtropical fruits is concentrated in Spanish regions of Andalusia, the Canary Islands and Valencia, thanks to the suitable climate conditions for development of different subtropical crop varieties.

Subtropical characteristics
Spain has five million hectares of fruit crops area that produce about 20 million tons of fruit, out of which four percent is subtropical. The consumers' demand has been significantly increasing in Europe, therefore the increase in hectares devoted is increasing as well. It is especially noticeable in the east and south area of the Iberian peninsula, and that is what also makes it an alternative to less innovative agriculture.

These fruit crops could make a difference in terms of lowering the impact on environment – an advantage of organic production. Furthermore, it represents a further step in the development of productive rural areas that have developed tourism alternatives associated with this particular crop.

Avocado is the main subtropical crop in Spain, concerning the overall surface of its growth. On 10.470 hectares, between 60.000 and 80.000 tons are produced. Spain is the leader avocado producer in Europe, highlighting its quality as the main strength in the market competition with the closest rivals: Peru, Chile, South Africa and Israel.

The second most important is cherimoya with an area of 3.177 hectares and a production of between 20.000 and 50.000 tons. Spain is one of world’s leaders in production of cherimoya, with a very specific growing area in the coast of Granada. Spain’s production makes 80 percent of world’s production, with about 3.200 hectares of land used and 40.000 tons being harvested in Andalusia.

Andalusia as a community reference
It was avocado and cherimoya that began the subtropical fruit production in Spain – precisely in Andalusia. The most important subtropical fruits, for instance, are avocado, cherimoya and mango, although other fruits – such as loquat, papaya, persimmon or litchi – have been increasing in production over last years. These crops are concentrated in "Tropical Coast" of Granada and Malaga, the areas with tropical microclimate.

A booming sector
Subtropical fruits have grown in their international presence, resulting in a significant increase in sales volumes outside of borders of Spain. For example, the production increase of around 62 percent over season 2011/2012 resulted in a record 20 million euro sale (expressed in absolute value of exports in 2012/2013). However the value unit of the product is lower than in recent seasons, in keeping the price at source. This increase in the 2012/2013 marketing campaign has also affected other fruits, i.e. avocado.

Organic subtropical fruits
The ideal characteristics of the Mediterranean basin for this crop make the region of Andalusia opt for organic type of production, as well. The growth of the subtropical sector that is continuing to develop exponentially, has captured the attention of organic farmers.

The “Valor Ecológico Association” (Ecovalia) supports this subtropical sector across to different kinds of activities, facilitating the exchange of experiences and the best knowledge about organic market and culture.

Malaga: the main province for organic subtropical cultivation
The Malaga province is the synonym for reference growing organic subtropical. In Axarquia, the production focuses mainly on tropical and subtropical organic fruit, but begins to extend on the areas of Guadalhorce and the western coast. The province has share of 70 percent of the organic production in subtropical Andalusia, with 634 hectares certified, and growth of mainly avocado. During the current season, 700 tons of avocado have been sold, as well as at least 1.000 tons of organic mangos. The price of organic products is typically 30 percent higher comparison to conventional products.

The demand of European consumers focuses on ensuring food security, practicing community-responsible marketing and the rising trend to consume local agriculture, with respects for the environment has resulted in favoring organic productions of the Spanish subtropical region. Hence, subtropical Spain has a competitive advantage regarding quality and freshness.

The article co-financed by the Regional Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Development of the Government of Andalusia and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, under the "Europe Invests in Rural Areas"

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