La Palma Volcano Has Cost $116M in Losses to Island's Banana Industry

The Canary Islands continue to suffer as the La Palma volcano has ruined nearly 400 acres of banana plantations that have been covered in molten lava and debris.

The regional government of the Canary Islands estimated the volcano has already caused 100 million euros, or $116 million, in losses for the island's banana industry, the industry that provides 30 percent of the economic life of the island.

Over 390 acres of banana plantations have been ruined, and more than 700 additional acres have been cut off from roads, covered in lava on the island's western side.

ASPROCAN, the banana growers association for the Canary Islands, estimated that around 1,500 of the island's 5,000 banana plantation owners have been hurt.

Antonio Álvarez, a local banana plantation owner said the devastation from farmers losing their crop is more severe than it sounds.

"They say it has wiped out 10 percent of the island's economy. I think it is more. It wasn't just the bananas, or the apartments, or the bed and breakfasts, it has taken everything," Álvarez said.

The volcano is continuing to erupt and is spewing lava from the Cumbre Vieja ridge heading down toward the Atlantic Ocean, threatening to consume more land as it forms a new patch of lava land.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

La Palma volcano ruins banana crop
The Canary Islands continue to suffer as the La Palma volcano has ruined nearly 400 acres of banana plantations that have been covered in molten lava and debris. Antonio Alvarez carries a bunch of bananas in a banana plantation on the Canary island of La Palma, Spain, October 31. Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press

His home went first. Then the house his father built. Then the lottery stand and hardware store he owned succumbed.

Lastly, Antonio Álvarez had to watch as lava from a volcanic eruption slowly devoured the remaining pillar of his family's wealth: the dozen acres he dedicated to growing the Canary Island banana that for generations has provided the agricultural lifeblood of the Atlantic Ocean archipelago.

"My father always told me 'don't make the house too big, it won't make you money; invest in banana! The bananas will give you a house.' And it's true," Álvarez said. "When I filmed [the lava destroying] my father's house, it was seeing him die all over again. That house was a part of him."

Álvarez, 54, is one of the thousands of farmers and workers on Spain's La Palma island whose livelihoods have been put in jeopardy by the destruction wrecked by the volcano that is still going strong six weeks after the ground first broke open on September 19.

La Palma, an island of 85,000, is the second-largest producer of bananas for the eight-member archipelago, which at its nearest point is 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Morocco. Last year it produced 148,000 tons of the local banana, most of which were shipped to Spain's mainland. While usually more expensive than imported bananas from Latin America and Africa, the smaller Canary Island banana is often preferred for its sweeter taste and meatier texture.

Authorities have pledged financial aid to help the sector and fund furloughs for workers. They have also promised to revise a law that says that new land formed by the lava is the property of the state.

Desalination plants have been shipped in to supply the water-dependent banana trees at points where lava flows have wrecked the irrigation systems. The island's government has asked for the military to consider taking farmers in by boat to tend to farms that have been isolated by the rivers of lava.

The house of farmer Jesús Pérez is still at risk, but for him, the most important property he owns is already gone.

"I would have preferred to lose my house instead of my banana trees," the 56-year-old Pérez said. "The trees give you life, the house gives you nothing. I have sacrificed all my life, and for what, nothing?"