Case Study Profile


Almería, Spain
Mediterranean Case Study

Case Study Leader: UNU-EHS

Type of Climate: Mediterranean Semi-arid

Inhabitants per km²: 74

Main economic sectors: Agriculture, industry, tourism

Main climatic challenges: Drought, sea-level rise

Almería is in the south European continent, close to Africa, and between two large bodies of water, the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. It can be characterised as a Mediterranean semi-arid region.

The area suffers from periods of extreme drought. In the most part of the region, precipitation is lower than 350 mm per year and in some areas, it is lower than 250 mm per year. Drought cycles are expected to become more frequent with climate change and rainfall, which is already unpredictable, will likely become more unpredictable and less frequent.

The dry climate of Almería in combination with a lack of perennial rivers mean that water from aquifer systems is the main source of water resource for irrigation and consumption. However, aquifers are severely overexploited and the extraction of water for greenhouses continues to have negative impacts not only on the quantity but the quality of the water. The stresses on water contribute further to the desertification processes, making the land less productive.

However, a dry climate and many hours of sun and wind throughout the year have provided major opportunities for agricultural production. Due to a combination of the subtropical climate and fertile soil, horticulture is the most important sector in the province. The greenhouses in the region produce over 3 million tons of fruit and vegetables per year, much for export to the rest of Europe. This produces revenues of 2.5 billion Euros and provides approximately 40,000 direct jobs in addition to supporting an additional 50,000 jobs. Horticulture represents 13% of the economy of Almería, and when related economic activity is included the figure rises to 40%. Most of the farms are family owned and marketed by cooperatives.

The greenhouses of Almería are the principal engine of the demographic growth of the province. Socio-economically and demographically, Almería has gone through vast changes in the past 50 years. It has gone from being one of the poorest provinces in Spain to one of the richest. Moreover, Almería is an entry point for migrants from the African region in search for better economic opportunities and work in the agricultural sector. The Almería “miracle” is thus associated with key demographic and labour market transformations.

However, despite major socio-economic opportunities associated with the horticultural sector, there is a need to consolidate the “miracle” of Almería and shift the development paradigm from one which continues to exploit land, water, and people to one which provides a more sustainable form of development for Almería. Indeed, the horticulture sector requires vast amounts of water, threatens biodiversity, and has been under international media cover for its exploitation of migrant workers who work and live under poor conditions. Shifting current development to a more sustainable one will be essential in order to provide a balance between horticulture and the other sectors such as tourism, other forms of agriculture and industry while supporting the residents of the region. The wellbeing of the latter is particularly salient in light of the large potentially vulnerable migrant communities who are affected both by the agriculture sector and the lack of water provision.

This can be achieved through the introduction of green infrastructure to support mixed uses of land and through improved and innovative water management practices to balance ecological, social and economic needs.

The main Land-use based Adaptation and Mitigation Solutions (LAMS) are those concerning biodiversity and ecosystems, like increasing protection of forests and restoring wetlands, as well as those concerning water management, such as increasing the share of reused treated wastewater, improving irrigation efficiency and protecting “maximum infiltration zones”.

The End-User Community members consist of experts in the areas of water management, agriculture, ecology, human migration, and solar energy. The experts in our EUC has long-standing experience of multi-stakeholder platforms and working with different actors.

Map of Almeria

Image Source: GMV