Spain has a lot of field, but it is a landscape in which employment does not take off. In fact, this territorial asset, that production potential, does not stop losing weight in the country's labor aggregate. In terms of jobs, the agricultural sector has languished without remedy for decades. It is a specific decline of the field, which neither accelerates substantially in times of economic crisis nor improves in times of re-launching. The overall result is devastating: in thirty years, the Spanish agricultural sector has cut 700,000 jobs. It has lost 43% of the agricultural employment that was in 1985, and there is no sign that the situation improves. In fact, during the last year it has returned to destroy employment in the field: in 2018 the 6,000 jobs that the agricultural sector had generated in 2017 went to the rack.
That unstoppable decline has made the weight of the field in the labor aggregate of Spain is the shadow of what it was in the 80s. Thus, in 1989 the agricultural industry supported almost 16% of all employment that was in our country; Now, however, out of every hundred employed people in Spain, only five work in agriculture or livestock.
The Exodus from the countryside to the city It led to the abandonment of farmland in areas where the agricultural sector offered less economic expectations than those drawn by the cities. Death wounds, the areas most affected by rural migration have added abandoned fields. Where it has most endured the activity has been in those areas with farmland more conducive to mechanization and with more favorable geographic and climatic conditions for intensive production and higher yields.
The result is a tremendous disparity between large areas of Spain where there are many abandoned fields – and the unpopulated municipalities – and others where technological agriculture has thrived and which perform better. The first case is still immersed in that spiral of continuous decline: there are fewer and fewer aging farmers, who when they retire do not find young people to relieve them in the countryside.
"The great loss of agricultural employment that has occurred in Spain since the 80s of the last century has been due to this triple cause of a progressive mechanization that has reduced the needs of manpower, together with the rural exodus that has emptied of young people the countryside and that has led to the progressive abandonment of farmland in large areas of Spain, "he explains. Juan José Álvarez, responsible for the Labor and Tax Area of the agricultural union Asaja. And he warns that this dynamic has not ended, so the problem continues to go further in the regions most affected by this binomial of rural exodus and decline of the primary sector.
"Where more croplands are being abandoned is in Aragon and the Castilian provinces of Guadalajara, Soria and Cuenca," affirms this Asaja specialist. But it is also being noticed that the problem is hitting other regions. "The abandonment of land is even being noticed in Andalusia, which is especially relevant if one takes into account that this region currently concentrates 50% of all the rural population in Spain," says Juan José Álvarez.
Less cultivated area, more untapped territorial assets and less capacity to generate employment in agriculture and livestock. Hence, with economic recession or bonanza, the field has been losing weight continuously for three decades in the Spanish labor market. And from there, also, that in the last four years the primary sector has practically not generated employment despite the fact that the national economy has not stopped growing. Since 2014, Spain has managed to create 2.3 million net jobs, but, of all of them, only 10,000 have landed in the field, in agriculture or in livestock.
Employment in this sector is highly conditioned by seasonality, depending on whether or not it is collected, which are the most labor-intensive. Therefore, to analyze the evolution and to be able to compare homogeneous figures, the data of the national average is used. In 1985, that annual average was 1.68 million workers in Spanish agriculture and livestock – figure that includes both salaried and self-employed. Since then, the number of employed has dropped unchecked. And, since 2013, the annual average in the Spanish field is already below one million workers.
To reverse the situation – or at least stop it – Asaja insists that it is urgent to articulate "effective measures that fix population in the sector". Among them, it proposes to grant farmers and ranchers tax incentives and bonuses in the Social Security contributions; special support for young people who decide to start in this sector; and fight from the Administration against «Price gap» that creeps in the field, because «they continue paying our productions at prices of 25 and 30 years ago, what drives the profitability and competitiveness of this activity ».
The first challenge is to maintain the number of freelancers, holders of farms and livestock, because they depend on the sustainability of the sector and, with it, the generation of employment for others. In the last thirty years, the group that has reduced the most has been that of farmers and ranchers on their own. However, the number of employees has fallen much less. This indicates that the sector has experienced a progressive concentration: there has been a continuous and accelerated disappearance of small farmers and self-employed farmers, and among those that remain, there are more larger producers.
The disappearance of small farmers has been intimately linked to the abandonment of land and has been primed with the regions most affected by the decline of the primary sector and by depopulation.
The most punished sector
The sharp rise in the Minimum Interprofessional Salary (SMI) approved by the Government of Pedro Sánchez, which has been in effect since January, is reducing employment in agriculture. This has been denounced by the Asaja union. Ensures that "the agricultural sector is most punished by the rise in the minimum wage." The Government revalued the SMI by 22.3% at one stroke. Juan José Álvarez, responsible for the Labor and Tax Area of Asaja, explains with an example the impact of this rise of the SMI in the field: "To many producers who hire thousands of seasonal workers to harvest very labor-intensive crops, such as the one of the strawberry or the tomato, it supposes an extra cost of thousands of euros for each hour of work in their fields, So now it's very difficult to hire the same number of workers that were hired before the SMI was raised. "
According to Álvarez, this extra cost affects, above all, Andalusia, Extremadura, Murcia and the two Castiles, given the characteristics of its primary sector. "In the last month it has already been seen that less is being hired in the field," he says. To alleviate it, Asaja demands reductions or bonuses in Social Security contributions, which compensate the producers for the increase of the SMI.