Cutesolar : worries rise in imports of F&V from third countries
While the EU is an important source of quality fruit and vegetables, the import from third countries has been increasing for the past 7 year
This article comes into the framework of CuteSolar, an EU programme in which AREFLH is a partner
In order to ensure Europe's food independence, it is essential to promote and facilitate sustainable production methods. The pandemic and the Russian invasion in Ukraine have proven this once again. For Belgium as well as for the rest of the European Union, the solar greenhouses of Southern Spain are an important source of quality European fruit and vegetables. With the sun as the only source of energy, they are very respectful of sustainable development and independent of foreign energy suppliers. They guarantee a year-round food supply for 500 million Europeans, unaffected by global crises and geopolitical turmoil. However, Spanish farmers are increasingly concerned about the growing European food dependency.
The sunny lands of Almeria and Granada, known as the vegetable garden of Europe, produced some 4 million tons of fruit and vegetables last year, even during the coldest winter months. 75% of this was exported to other European countries, mainly Germany (37%), France (19%), the United Kingdom (13%) and the Netherlands (10%). A quick count shows that one third of the vegetables consumed by Europeans in winter came from solar greenhouses in southeast Spain, the main supplier to the European Union.
Paradoxically, the import of fruit and vegetables from third countries has been increasing every year by more than 5% for the past 7 years, from 1.2 million tons in 2015 to 1.8 million tons last year. At the same time, European production has fallen in similar proportions. This food dependency is becoming a concern for some vegetables, such as tomatoes. Although 3 out of 4 Belgians say they prefer fruit and vegetables grown in Europe, Spanish tomato imports have fallen by 540,000 tons since 2015, with those from Morocco and Turkey rising by 234,000 tons during the same period.
Despite this decline, half of European consumers have a positive image of fruits and vegetables grown in solar greenhouses, as shown in a European study conducted by the Cute Solar program. They believe that they are safer, healthier and more environmentally friendly. The results of this European study confirm the importance of Iberian solar greenhouses and the efforts to be made to guarantee European food independence.
"Recent geopolitical events have shown the importance of preserving production models that promote ecological, economic and social sustainability. Only by remaining faithful to these models can the European Union guarantee satisfactory food independence, as today too many products intended for food consumption are still imported from countries outside the European Union", acknowledges the Cute Solar consortium. "The ability of Spanish solar greenhouses to produce fresh fruit and vegetables all year round is a fundamental element for the preservation and self-sufficiency of European food. We are also seeing an increase in consumer demand for safe, quality and sustainable food. These are all needs that solar greenhouses are perfectly aligned with”.
What is a solar greenhouse?
A solar greenhouse is an enclosed structure covered with plastic sheeting that lets in the sunlight and light that plants need to maintain a temperature during the winter months that is conducive to their development, so that they can carry out photosynthesis. The plants extract nutrients from the CO2 they capture from the air and release huge amounts of oxygen into the atmosphere. Solar greenhouses differ considerably from the production methods used by other types of greenhouses, where heating and lighting systems are mainly powered by fossil fuels, which require up to 30% more energy and are much more polluting.
What is not a solar greenhouse?
A solar greenhouse is not a greenhouse covered with photovoltaic panels, which convert solar energy into electrical energy that is used to artificially heat or light the plantations.
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