|Spain Table of Contents
Viewed in terms of land mass, Spain is one of the largest countries of Western Europe, and it ranks second in terms of its elevation, after Switzerland. A large part of the country is semiarid, with temperatures that range from extremely cold in the winter to scorching in the summer. Rainfall, which is often inadequate, tends to be concentrated in two generally brief periods during the year. Summer droughts occur frequently. Of Spain's 50.5 million hectares of land, 20.6 million, or about 40 percent, are suitable for cultivation; however, the soil is generally of poor quality, and only about 10 percent of the land can be considered excellent. In addition, the roughness of the terrain has been an obstacle to agricultural mechanization and to other technological improvements. Furthermore, years of neglect have created a serious land erosion problem, most notably in the dry plains of Castilla-La Mancha.
Compared with other West European countries, the proportion of land devoted to agricultural purposes is low. In the 1980s, about 5 million hectares were devoted to permanent crops: orchards, olive groves, and vineyards. Another 5 million lay fallow each year because of inadequate rainfall. Permanent meadows and pastureland occupied 13.9 million hectares. Forests and scrub woodland accounted for 11.9 million hectares, and the balance was wasteland or was taken up by populated and industrial areas.
The primary forms of property holding in Spain have been large estates (latifundios) and tiny land plots (minifundios). In large measure, this was still true in the 1980s. The agrarian census of 1982 found that 50.9 percent of the country's farmland was held in properties of 200 or more hectares, although farms of this size made up only 1.1 percent of the country's 2.3 million farms. At the other end of the scale, the census showed that 61.8 percent of Spain's farms had fewer than 5 hectares of land. These farms accounted for 5.2 percent of the country's farmland. Furthermore, just under 25-percent of all farms consisted of less than 1 hectare of land, and they accounted for 0.5 percent of all farmland. Minifundios were particularly numerous in the north and the northwest. Latifundios were mainly concentrated in the south, in Castilla-La Mancha, Extremadura, Valencia, and Andalusia (Spanish, Andalucia).
Crop areas were farmed in two highly diverse manners. Areas relying on nonirrigated cultivation (secano), which made up 85 percent of the entire crop area, depended solely on rainfall as a source of water. They included the humid regions of the north and the northwest, as well as vast arid zones that had not been irrigated. The much more productive regions devoted to irrigated cultivation (regadio) accounted for 3 million hectares in 1986, and the government hoped that this area would eventually double, as it already had doubled since 1950. Particularly noteworthy was the development in Almeria--one of the most arid and desolate provinces of Spain--of winter crops of various fruits and vegetables for export to Europe.
Though only about 17 percent of Spain's cultivated land was irrigated, it was estimated to be the source of between 40 and 45 percent of the gross value of crop production and of 50 percent of the value of agricultural exports. More than half of the irrigated area was planted in corn, fruit trees, and vegetables. Other agricultural products that benefited from irrigation included grapes, cotton, sugar beets, potatoes, legumes, olive trees, strawberries, tomatoes, and fodder grasses. Depending on the nature of the crop, it was possible to harvest two successive crops in the same year on about 10 percent of the country's irrigated land.
Citrus fruits, vegetables, cereal grains, olive oil, and wine--Spain's traditional agricultural products--continued to be important in the 1980s. In 1983 they represented 12 percent, 12 percent, 8 percent, 6 percent, and 4 percent, respectively, of the country's agricultural production. Because of the changed diet of an increasingly affluent population, there was a notable increase in the consumption of livestock, poultry, and dairy products. Meat production for domestic consumption became the single most important agricultural activity, accounting for 30 percent of all farm-related production in 1983. Increased attention to livestock was the reason that Spain became a net importer of grains. Ideal growing conditions, combined with proximity to important north European markets, made citrus fruits Spain's leading export. Fresh vegetables and fruits produced through intensive irrigation farming also became important export commodities, as did sunflower seed oil that was produced to compete with the more expensive olive oils in oversupply throughout the Mediterranean countries of the EC.
Farming was only marginally affected by the Civil War, yet agricultural output during the 1940s remained below the 1933 level. This low agricultural productivity led to food rationing, substantially contributing to the great hardships endured by people residing in the cities. One of the main reasons for this dilemma was the government preoccupation with industrial selfsufficiency , which resulted in neglect for the modernization of agriculture. The government did encourage grain cultivation with the aim of achieving agricultural self-sufficiency, but heavyhanded efforts to control food prices led to the massive channeling of agricultural products into the black market.
The traditional shortcomings of Spanish agriculture-- excessive land fragmentation (minifundismo) and extremely large land tracts in the hands of a few (latifundismo)-- were, for all practical purposes, ignored. As in the past, latifundio areas with low yields and little irrigation were primarily devoted to the production of such traditional commodities as olive oil, grains, and wine. They were, moreover, the areas where casual rural laborers (braceros) were concentrated, where wage levels were lowest, and where illiteracy rates were highest.
A gradual change in Spanish agriculture began in the 1950s, when prices rapidly increased, and the surplus labor pool began to shrink, as a half million rural field hands migrated to the cities or went abroad in search of a better life. Nonetheless, more substantial changes did not take place prior to the 1960s. The Stabilization Plan of 1959 encouraged emigration from rural areas, and the economic boom in both Spain and Western Europe provided increased opportunities for employment. The subsequent loss of rural manpower had a farreaching effect on both agricultural prices and wage levels and, as a consequence, on the composition of Spanish agriculture.
Spain's economic transformation in the 1960s and in the first half of the 1970s caused tremendous outmigration from rural areas. Between 1960 and 1973, 1.8 million people migrated to urban areas. Even later, between 1976 and 1985, when the economy was experiencing serious difficulties, the fall in farm employment averaged 4 percent per annum. The results of these migrations were reflected in the changing percentage of the population involved in farming. In 1960, 42 percent of the population was engaged in agricultural work; by 1986 only about 15 percent was so employed--a marked reduction, though still twice as high as the EC average. As Spain became more industrialized, the declining share of agriculture in the economy was evidenced by its declining share of the GDP. Agriculture accounted for 23 percent of GDP in 1960; for 15 percent, in 1970; and for 5 percent, by 1986. In addition, the character of Spanish agriculture in the 1980s had changed. It had become less a way of life and more a way of making a living. Even subsistence agriculture, already in steady decline, had become increasingly market oriented.
The magnitude of the rural exodus permitted the government to undertake a program of parcel consolidation, that is, to bring together into single plots many tiny, scattered pieces of land that characterized the minifundio sector. The government managed to surpass its goal of consolidating 1 million hectares of small land holdings between 1964 and 1967; by 1981 it had brought together a total of 5 million hectares.
The decreased size of the rural work force affected Spanish agriculture because its traditionally labor-intensive practices required a large pool of cheap labor. The workers who remained in the countryside saw their wages advanced by 83.8 percent between 1960 and 1970--a rate that roughly followed the wage increases in industry. At the same time, however, increased agricultural labor costs led to the end of countless minifundios. The 1982 agrarian census recorded the disappearance of about one-half million small farms between 1962 and 1982. The resulting lack of a ready labor supply was an incentive, particularly for large landed estates, to mechanize. The number of farm tractors expanded more than tenfold between 1960 and 1983, from 52,000 to 593,000. The number of combine harvester-threshers increased almost tenfold over the same period, from 4,600 to 44,000. The process of mechanization caused agricultural productivity to grow by 3.5 percent per year between 1960 and 1978, and the productivity of farm workers grew even faster. Nonetheless, Spain's output per agricultural worker remained low. It was about half the EC average in 1985, and it surpassed only those of Greece and Portugal.
During the mid-1980s, Spanish agriculture was roughly selfsufficient in years when there were good harvests, and in nearly every year there were sizable surpluses of olive oil, citrus fruits, and wine that could be exported in quantities large enough to make it the EC's third-largest food supplier. In years of poor or average harvests, the country was obliged to import grains for use as animal fodder, but on the whole Spain was a net exporter of foodstuffs.
Spanish agriculture varied considerably with regard to regional differences in output. Some regions were distinguished by a highly inefficient variety of farming. Specialists estimated that areas dominated by minifundios would have to lose an estimated three-fourths of their farming population if they were to compete effectively with foreign producers. The variety of agriculture practiced along the Mediterranean coast or in the Rio Ebro Valley was, however, highly efficient and capable of keeping up with foreign competition.
Opinion was not united as to what EC membership would eventually mean for Spanish farmers. The EC's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which aimed at supporting most of each member state's farming sector, was expensive, and by the 1980s it was consuming well over half of the organization's revenues. If the CAP were continued, it would not be likely to have a considerable effect on Spanish agriculture, for a system of domestic price supports had long protected the weaker parts of the nation's farm sector. A change of EC policy that encouraged a single communitywide agricultural system might allow those parts of the Spanish agricultural sector that outperformed their rivals in the EC to prosper, while backward branches would probably disappear.
Because the interior of Spain is dominated by semiarid plateaus and mountains subject to temperature extremes, the most productive agricultural areas in the late 1980s tend to be the coastal regions. Thus the north and the northwest, where there is a relatively mild, humid climate were the principal cornproducing and cattle-raising areas. Apples and pears were the main orchard crops in this area, and potatoes were another of its leading products.
Galicia, which consists of Spain's four westernmost provinces directly north of Portugal, had a concentrated farm population living on intensely fragmented plots. Accordingly, per capita farm income was low, compared with that of the northern provinces lying to the east, where there were fewer people and higher per capita income levels because of a more diversified economy that included industry, mining, and tourism.
Catalonia, on the northeast coast, also has a climate that permits diversified agriculture. At the end of the 1980s, livestock particularly the expanding poultry industry was important in the area. Modern farming methods, including the use of tractors, were more advanced here than they were in the rest of the country. South of Catalonia, along the narrow Mediterranean coast, or Levante, was Spain's principal area of intensive, irrigated horticulture. Orange trees, orchard fruits, rice, and vegetables were produced in this region, and farther to the south, fig trees and nut trees were grown.
Andalusia, which includes all of tillable southern Spain, was another major agricultural area in the late 1980s. It was also the target of several agricultural planning programs. Although olive trees grow throughout the Mediterranean coastal region, as well as in parts of the Meseta Central (Central Plateau), they constituted the most important crop in Andalusia, particularly in the province of Jaen. Other warm-weather crops, such as cotton, tobacco, and sugarcane, were also produced in Andalusia, as were wine and table grapes.
The vast dry plateau region of central Spain contrasted sharply with the country's relatively productive areas. The production of agricultural commodities was particularly difficult in central Spain because of a lack of rainfall, a scarcity of trees and other vegetation, extremes of temperature, and harsh, rocky soil. Nevertheless, the farmers of the region grew wheat and other grains, raised sheep and goats, maintained vineyards, and carried on other agricultural activities.
An important irrigation system lies just northwest of the northern Meseta and south of the Pyrenees in the Ebro Basin, where Spain's best known vineyard district is located in the autonomous community of La Rioja. Because of its irrigation, corn, sugar beets, and orchard fruits, were grown in this area, and the Ebro Delta was one of Spain's principal rice-growing regions.
In the Balearic Islands (Spanish, Islas Baleares), the uncertain, sparse rainfall and the lack of permanent fresh water streams were somewhat compensated for by good supplies of underground water. Irrigation permitted the production of a wide range of temperate and semitropical tree corps for export, as well as enough cereals, legumes, wines, and vegetables for local consumption. Sheep, goats, pigs, and poultry were also raised on the islands.
Agriculture in the Canary Islands (Spanish, Canarias) was limited by water shortages and mountainous terrain. Nevertheless, a variety of vegetable and fruit crops were produced for local consumption, and there was a significant and exportable surplus of tomatoes and bananas.
More about the Economy of Spain.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress