A draft bill for the Canary Islands

Article in CajaSiete Blog, 14 September 2016

Leopoldo Cólogan

The strategic location and production capacity of land in the Canary Islands were highly regarded at the end of the eighteenth century by merchant fleets and European navies, which used the port of Santa Cruz de Tenerife to supply their ships. There is no doubt that without these facilities it would have been impossible for the British Empire to consolidate its expansion.

These supplies were so important that they sometimes influenced the limited local market, and on occasion were impeded, as they had a direct effect on its prices. This occurred when livestock was demanded for the ships, obliging the authorities to intervene to limit such high levels of “exportation”. The supply of wine was important as well. This was due to the fact it kept well on long sailing ship voyages, and came to be viewed as an essential “fuel” for both crew and passengers. Why is this short introduction relevant, though? It serves to graphically illustrate the productive limitations of our land and what can be extracted from it.

“We have a duty to preserve the heritage of our landscape and environment, while at the same time making sure that we have a productive and competitive primary sector.”

The grounds for the land law bill are very critical of the current regulatory situation. It describes it as a limitation that goes far beyond what is necessary, with contradictions and failings that, sometimes, become hurdles, for which there is not always an explanation, and that hinder rational, sustainable development of an area. At the same time, it establishes the objective of facilitating economic and social activity in appropriate areas, and maintaining the protection of the islands’ most valuable spaces and areas, so that regulations can get closer to the reality of life in the Canaries.

Nothing helps more when trying to understand this island reality than finding out about the lives and values of their inhabitants, and the characteristics of the land we live on. It is cultivated in large sloping areas and medianías (areas between 600-1500 metres above sea level), and they make up an important part of production destined for internal consumption, which is what we are trying to strengthen.

One example of this is Bodegas El Penitente,, located in the medianía of Valle de La Orotava. This wine producer recently won the Premio Alimentos de España al Mejor Vino (best Spanish wine) in 2016, awarded by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and the Environment, for its Arautava Blanco Dulce Gran Reserva 2002.

The owner of the company is Américo García Núñez, who is the son of the man known as don Casiano de Aguamansa. He was a “man who worked and fought for the people of this neighbourhood to have better lives,” according to a plaque dedicated to him in Aguamansa. These qualities influenced his son who, since childhood, has played an active role in the development of the community.

After becoming involved in construction and working in that sector when the opportunity arose, Don Américo set up the Hermanos García Núñez company together with one of his brothers. It was a company that was a reference point in the north of Tenerife, and, during certain periods, was able to provide employment that supported up to two hundred and fifty families.

In its 18-year history, Bodegas El Penitente has won more than 70 local, national and international awards, therefore it is no coincidence it was awarded the prize of best Spanish wine in 2016. This is a big contribution for an agricultural sector, and wine growing and production, which plays an important cultural, economic, and environmental role in the Canary Islands, as well as having a considerable impact on the landscape, it also helps to provide attractive surroundings for the islands’ inhabitants tourists.

This short example of different elements cohabiting areas, such as the necessary development of communities and the agricultural sector, serves to bring to light the need to find the balance between social and economic development and preserving the environment, while responding to current needs.

The primary sector of the Canary Islands, without casting aspersions on other claimants, has had a positive effect on different aspects of the bill currently being drafted., Among these aspects are: legislative and administrative simplification; eliminating the need to obtain zoning permissions; eliminating the need to obtain permits for maintenance or conservation work; accepting the need, in rural areas, for a large number of businesses currently classified as standard use, to be reclassified as susceptible to development (agriculture, farming, forestry, fishing, grazing, extractive industries, and infrastructure); regularisation of numerous businesses currently classified as complementary, but which are of great importance to the sector, as well as making certain tourist activities compatible with them, such as visits to wineries or on site sales of agricultural products, i.e. any land use or business that generates secondary income to the standard business, without using more than 10% of its total area, and not more than 15% of the area actually in use. This is essential for an unstable sector that is very labour-intensive, and whose products are exposed to possible variations in climate and certain infestations.

The practical benefit of these aspects will depend on how the text is interpreted, which, where appropriate in the future, will really respect the spirit in which it was written – to simplify and make business more dynamic.
For some this does not go far enough, given that there are references in some articles of the bill which a restrictive interpretation could leave without content, such as the article that refers to the need to obtain permits to carry out maintenance or conservation work, which is qualified by saying “it cannot be subsumed in any of the actions subject to an act of authorization or prior notice.”

Furthermore, the prediction is that individual councils will definitely grant all planning, the practice of banning the classification of new land destined to be used for tourism, and that they will introduce the principle of “compensating by preserving”.

Nowadays, and given that the German government has just approved a controversial plan of action for major crises which, among other things, seeks to ensure the supply of basic commodities, we have a duty to preserve the heritage of our landscape and our environment, while at the same time making sure we have a productive and competitive primary sector, which, when all is said and done, represents the natural larder of our islands, and which kept ships supplied in the past.