There are four kinds of fruit trees in the
dry fields (good soils but not irrigable) of Eivissa and Formentera
which define the local produce on this type of land.
They have become part of our natural environment
and have roots deep in our historical culture. These trees
have played a very important role in the economy of the Ibicenco
peasants and of the Islands in general.
The first and most important in historical
times was the olive tree (ancient wrecks of boats full of
amphorae containing olive-oil - the oil was still in a relatively
good condition after about two thousand years, well sealed
inside the amphora - have been found on the sea-bed around
the coasts of Eivissa and Formentera). Some of the Balearic
olive trees are thought to be over two thousand years old.
The other three are the fig tree, mostly
for the local consumption, the carob tree and - more recently
- the almond tree. (The wine grapes have also increased in
these types of lands across quite a few Hectares in the past
The almond tree ("Prunnus communis")
has been growing on our Islands since immemorial times (most
probably brought in by the Phoenicians). The tree is originally
from Middle East and North African countries, from where the
Phoenicians and Carthaginians came when they founded the city
of "Ebusus" around 2,655 years ago, the first and
biggest at the time in the Balearic Islands and one of their
most important colonies of what is today the Spanish territory).
It is found as well in most of the Mediterranean
coastline countries, and its fruits, the almonds, have been
used as a rich and delicate aliment anywhere the tree grows.
But it was not until the XVIII Century when
its culture on a big scale in commercial terms to be exported,
started to be developed in the Pitiüsas Islands.
The natural conditions of our weather and
soils (this rustic tree is very resistant to long periods
of dry weather, like our summer, and prefers light, deep and
well drained soils) are ideal for its production, and the
price of the almond was relatively high, so the almond tree
soon started to gain space in our fields.
Even so, the amount of almonds exported
from Eivissa and Formentera to mainland Spain, and from there
to the rest of the world, was insignificant until well into
the XIX Century,
That is when we start to have official records
of its exportation, at the beginning much below that of the
carobs, potatoes, or dried apricots and figs, our most exported
agriculture products at the time. But the commercial demand
of the almond was increasing every year and the local peasants
kept planting almond trees, sometimes taking the place in
the fields of old fig or carob trees, all mixed up.
In 1960, the number of Hectares planted
in our Islands with almond trees reached 5,677, the second
largest cultured crop, just below the carob tree (7,995 Hectares),
But, as there are more almond then carob trees planted by
Hectare (in Eivissa, the almond tree is traditionally planted
from 7x7 metres, up to 11x11 metres, depending on the depth
and qualities of the soil), the almond tree was the most planted
tree of all. The almond became one of the top products for
export and therefore produced one of the best incomes for
The almond's world production was - in the
beginning of the 1970s - about 641.000 tonnes. More than one
third of them were collected in Spain (234,097 tonnes in 1972).
The most productive provinces were the Balearic Islands, with
the largest extension of almond tree plantations, (3,000 tonnes
in Eivissa), Alicante, Castellón, Granada and Tarragona.
Coming down from the farm with the horse
and cart, the farmer and his wife and the cart as full as
possible of sacks of almonds, towards downtown, to "Vila"
(Eivissa Town) to sell the almonds, and from there, straight
away to the textile shops to buy the materials for some new
dresses and winter clothes for the family, as well as some
other needed objects and perhaps some other "sweet"
that both will take back home on the cart, with the sun going
down in a pleasant sunset.
This was a commonplace and happy scene that
could be seen during several weeks every year, by the end
of September and October, until the beginning of November.
The almond sacks sold for cash and it was the best income
of the year for a lot of them. (This was the reason why the
farmer's wife started to go downtown with him to sell the
almonds, otherwise the farmer would be left alone in the city
with all this cash in his pocket. There was a serious risk,
for some, of no new dresses for Christmas that winter)!
Unfortunately, this situation changed very
quickly and drastically as soon as the almonds imported from
California, USA, started to be commercialised on a big scale
at a cheaper price, in Spain, and all over the World.
Then, around the middle 1970s, the demand
for our almonds for export dropped drastically. Big stocks
remained for months on the Island, without anybody interested
in buying them and obviously the price dropped.
This situation hasn't changed since then.
Our production is being sold little by little, sent out of
the Island all the year around, but the price of the almond
The average price in our new Euro currency
that a farmer gets for a kilo of almonds is fifty five cents
per kilo, the average production for a middle size tree and
year, depending on the weather conditions and the type of
almond, is about from twelve to twenty kilos That means that
the total income per tree is from seven to twelve Euros per
year. (More or less the cost of one hour's work of cheap labour,
to the farmer, it means at least a full day's job, all together,
before he can get the same money for his product).
So, under these circumstances, it is understandable
that the almonds don't count much in the peasant's economy
anymore, if the farmer and his family can't collect the almonds
themselves, they can't afford to pay to have the job done
and we can see more and more trees with the almonds remaining
This is not because of the quality of our
almonds. In fact, some of our varieties are supposed to be
of the best quality in the world, with a bigger fruit (the
real weight of the fruit itself, without the shell, varies,
according to the specific variety, from 25 to 30% of its original
weight with the shell). They have the sweetest and best flavour
of all, also with the best market price, but there are other
It is almost impossible to recognise the
variety of the almond just by the tree. It is a job for botanical
experts. The difference is in the fruit, the almond itself,
and there are at least from twenty four to thirty different
varieties of them being cultivated on the Island, some of
them exclusively from here, or so say some experts. A single
farm may collect ten or twelve different kinds of them, all
put and sold together in the same sacks. (It takes at least
between two and three trees to fill a standard fifty kilos
There are mainly two different groups, the
ones with a hard shell and the soft-shell ones, but there
are also important differences in the size, the shape, single
grain or twin-grain, etc. They are all sold together at the
same price. It is very easy to understand how difficult and
expensive it is to work in industrial ways, with machinery,
to get a homogenous result of such a big variety. On the other
hand, we have the imported almond from California; thousands
of tonnes, all homogeneous, of the same kind, much easier
to work with and even at a cheaper price; the preferences
of the industry are obvious when it comes to buying the product.
Of the different kinds of local almonds
and all kinds of products associated with them, including
some of our most representative desserts, such as our ancestral
"Salsa de Nadal" and the real "King" of
the Spanish Christmas, "Turrón", known and
exported world-wide, we will hopefully speak in the third
and last chapter of "The Almond Tree" in two weeks.
The Good News
I'm very happy to say that in the "Anti-global"
manifestation in Barcelona last week, even though there were
quite a few injured by the police brutality, just for being
there and acting within their rights, as the Spanish Constitution
Laws recognise to all Spanish citizens, nobody was put up
against the wall and shot.
A Forest of Almond Trees in Bloom
at Santa Agnès
José P Ribas