The impact of tourism on rural life in Mallorca

With the development of tourism in Mallorca, agriculture lost its hegemony and it is now an activity with very little importance in the economy, both in terms of the income it generates and the number of workers it employs. The end of the1950s and beginning of the 1960s saw the beginning of an exodus of country dwellers, who went from agriculture to the tourism and construction sectors, two economic activities whose development was closely linked. This brought about a crisis in traditional agriculture, which was based on cultivating dry land with a combination of trees such as the almond, the fig and the carob, as well as growing cereals such as wheat so as to obtain flour to make bread, which was an important staple of the diet. Other types of agricultural activity include vineyards, and olives in the Serra de Tramuntana, as well as livestock farming, which is principally ovine. Nowadays, this almost subsistence-level agriculture is not economically viable, as productivity is low and there are labour and machine costs that often exceed the value of the produce

The traditional cultivations are what define the Mallorcan landscape, and their attraction thereby contributes to the tourist industry, which is vital for the economy of the Balearic Islands. Thus, the degradation of this agriculture would have negative repercussions for the economy, in spite of its low level of productivity. The preservation of this agriculture comes about either through making it profitable, as in the case of the production of quality wines, or through public subsidies. In fact, these subsidies have meant that small property owners have been able to dedicate some of their free time to looking after their properties.

Tourism and the development of urban areas have created a strong demand for fresh vegetables, and this has led to the uptake of intensive, technical, irrigation-based cultivation methods in this sector, although production is still insufficient to meet demand. The growth of this sector is restricted by the scarcity of water, a resource that is necessary in large quantities for this type of cultivation.

The abandonment of agricultural activity has been accompanied by a change in the residential use of the land. Speculation has increased land and property values, and the influx of Northern Europeans, especially Germans, with incomes way above the Mallorcan average, has exacerbated the situation and raised prices enormously. The value of an estate is no longer valued by its productive capacity, but in terms of the construction possibilities that are legally permissible on it. These property value increases are yet another factor working against the economic viability of agricultural activity.

Tourists initially stayed exclusively in the resorts on the coast, however, over time they have spread into rural areas, staying in second homes, farmhouses in the agrotourism sector, or in small rural hotels. This type of tourism respects the environment and doesn’t involve consuming more tracts of land; it also brings in income to rural areas and helps maintain the landscape and the architectural heritage of the countryside.

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