Chilean wildfires: Up to a decade to recover productive land

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Chilean wildfires: Up to a decade to recover productive land

As the country continues fighting against wildfires, producers announced that it could take between six to ten years to recover productive soils in Chile. 

"Let us not forget the rural world", begged the president of Fedefruta, Jorge Valenzuela, referring to the situation of fruit growers who have been affected by the fires, and will experience the impact that this catastrophe will have on Chilean producers.

"There is a social issue and I would like the government to address it because I have not heard them do it," Valenzuela emphasizes. 

He adds that in the industry in general, all the small and medium producers are linked to the big ones because they provide services, and sell them fruit, for example, the man who has the change and takes the fruit to the packing, also produces in one or two hectares.

The rural world is clearly affected, and people start leaving. In 2017, wildfires in the O'Higgins Region destroyed large amounts of productive territory. People started moving, causing depopulation in these areas, which is a big social issue. 

Regarding this issue, Valenzuela said: "I understand that today we are all wearing firemen's suits to put out the fire, but we should put forward what development plans are going to be made. There are villas that have burned down, there are communes that will be depopulated because people can not wait six or ten years to recover their lands. Let's not forget about the rural world, especially after the fires are gone.”


What's the state of the fruit?

“Several issues are occurring at the same time. Roads are cut and people cannot get to the harvesting operations. With smoke in the air, people cannot go to work. How can you force them to work in these conditions where they cannot breathe? 

Fruit such as blueberries is very perishable and if it is not harvested in time it rots. We had already had two very bad seasons due to the logistic issues, in general, because the fruit did not last between harvesting and arrival at the destination... A third complex season for the area would be a very hard blow,” says Valenzuela.

People tend to think that fruit growing is only for large producers, but 85% of fruit growers are small and medium-sized, with people living off 10 hectares of blueberries, and if they do not harvest on time or if part of it burns. Fruit with smoke is not going to be exported today in a condition of aroma and flavor, it becomes impossible to market. 


Recovery of fruit growing in the area

The trade unionist says that reusing soils that have been burned is very unlikely, they lose natural effectiveness, they lose all biological conditions of microorganisms, and the soils degrade, which requires a long time to be able to return to being agricultural soils. 

How long it takes depends on the type of soil. The trumaos (a type of soil found in southern and central Chile, formed from young volcanic ash), which have very good fruit-growing characteristics, can take from two to five years to recover and become productive again. 

In addition, any fruit plantation takes three to five years to come into commercial production. 

Fedefruta has been working for a long time in the Ñuble region, supporting small producers in the last years towards more sustainable irrigation systems, and taking advantage of the energy using solar panels. However, all the progress was burned in the fires, and producers are seriously affected. 


Regulation of forestry companies

Today we are facing adverse climate conditions which is a reality. "We have had heat waves that, in fact, we knew were coming. I think there was very little prevention and investment in all the fire control equipment, from Conaf and everyone that works in this. If it was known, why were there not three, four airplanes, an air brigade with the resources, with pilots, with equipment, with mechanics, with everything... because this situation is always a possibility," says Valenzuela.

From 2017 to date, the risk of wildfires has not changed and continues to increase.

"I think this speaks of a new institutionality, an important, profound change, and how we are going to face climate change. What happened in the Ñuble region will happen in the future to other regions in the country, so we must have a new system of control and management of fires. We have much to learn and much to invest", he concluded.

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