Antonio Estévez, first president of Coexphal: “the sector must produce more kilos per square meter and look for new products”.

From 1977, the year in which the Association was created, until 1981 he held the presidency of COEXPHAL, a beginning where they all needed to stick together, and join efforts when meeting with the different administrations. In the opinion of Antonio Estevez, the salubrity of the product has undoubtedly been the aspect in which the horticultural sector of Almeria has progressed the most, becoming one of the most committed areas in this sense in all Spain.

– How did COEXPHAL arise?

By 1977 there were far fewer co-operatives than there are currently. It was a more independent struggle in pursuit of objectives, and whenever a bigger problem arose, they used to resort to the administrations that, as a general rule, did not pay too much attention. Thus the need to create COEXPHAL, as a means that would replace the individualism and would obtain greater advantages by putting a greater pressure on the Administration. Little by little we were getting quota and gaining ground to our competitor who at that time was the Canary Islands.

– Regarding the export, what was the first product to be exported?

Practically all at the same time. When we started exporting we had almost the same products that we have today. It is true, though,  that the quantity and quality of the varieties have improved significantly. In addition, some campaigns have been extended for certain products, such as zucchini. Almeria needs to diversify its offer and have new products.

– Which were the first destinations for the export of Almeria?

Apart of the grapes, that already had a market mainly focused in the United Kingdom and Far East, Almería did not have much experience in exporting. Our first destination was France, a market that received almost 90% of the production from Almería, and from which it was redistributed to other countries. We decided to look for our own customers and started exporting directly to other markets such as Germany and England. In general, the export is still the same in terms of methods and we could almost say that in terms of destinations. Twenty years ago we were already exporting to the US and Canada, but it has not been possible to evolve exponentially, partly due to the cost of distance and lack of support from the Administration. In addition, at present we continue with the Russian veto, and for us Russia had a very strong potential that was growing more and more. Unfortunately we do not know when this matter will be resolved.

– In what market do you think Almería should be present?

The Middle East markets, specifically the Arab Emirates, would be a good choice. To obtain a greater presence there, we would need full support from the Administration.

-How do you remember the first years as president in charge of COEXPHAL?

A new beginning where everything that involved agriculture was new, starting with the farmers, continuing with the exporters, and ending with the technicians. The farmer had no experience, and intensive cultivation under plastic required knowledge and experience that was not greater, which is why I would like to highlight the work of the expert. This figure is still fundamental, obviously, but even more back in those years. The companies were born without experts, but it did not take long for them to realize how elementary the use of knowledgeable people was, beyond what the farmer could have. In fact, the contracting of the agricultural technician was in chain, one after another, between the cooperatives.

– According to your opinion, what are the most important changes that have occurred in this sector?

Undoubtedly those changes related to the health of the product. The products that are grown in Almeria, today, are the cleanest, healthiest and respectful with the environment in all Spain. Our companies are well aware of what the market demands at all times and have adapted to their needs. In fact, COEXPHAL has its own laboratory, Labcolor, which has been a fundamental pillar in this change of mentality towards a production under biological control, and without use of phytosanitary products. It should also be noted the progress in new technologies and the increase of organic farming.

However, there are situations that, in general, have not changed much. I refer to the scandal that occurred in early February in the press, for the exorbitant price, according to some media, that some horticultural products had at this time. The reality is quite different and after so many years, how is it possible to think this way? The campaigns are usually very similar: we start in September with a great competition at European level. When winter arrives, the productions slows down, and in Europe the cold closes the campaign of our competitors.

There the demand is increasingly stronger because the product is running out and here the supply is lower because of the slowdown in production. The result of this is that producers are quoted at higher prices. It is the law of supply-demand. When the farmer does not earn enough to cover the costs and even has to throw his product away, I do not see so much fuss in the media.

-How do you think it can solve the constant loss of profitability of the farmer?

A way to save a bad time would be to be able to produce a greater quantity of kilos per square meter or to be able to find new products, diversifying the supply and reducing the necessary quantities of those products that in certain moments produce enormous surpluses.