The volcano also threatens the palm goat (and its cheese)

Ana Laura González (45 years) is a livestock farmer and producer of artisan cheeses with designation of origin Palm tree. He had to abandon his farm between the towns of Jedey and Las Manchas as soon as the La Palma volcano erupted last 14 of September. Not only did he go out with his family: he was accompanied by his 170 palm goats, transported in five trucks. “The goats and my farm have been saved … for now,” explains González at the farm that has been lent him temporarily until he can return to his own. She continues in shock: “I was born in San Nicolás (El Paso). I grew up there, I know many people who have lost their homes in El Paraíso. Among them, my son and his girlfriend … ”

Agustín Perera suffered the worst luck. His farm, located near El Paraíso (in the same municipality) and bought last December, was buried under lava. “He took it complete: warehouses, merchandise, infrastructure, machinery …”. Ten years of work, all his savings, buried. “My life was buried under the lava. I do not know if I will be able to raise my head, but if I do it will be thanks to a lot of farmers, friends and people I did not even know, people who have never left me alone, “he cries. Perera continues to work: he has reinstated himself in another farm in the same municipality, he has resumed the production and distribution of cheeses, although on a much smaller scale.

Palmero cheese, which has won several international awards, it has a multitude of characteristics that make it special. It is made with unpasteurized milk (it is exempt by the European Union), and its preparation is based on a livestock tradition that dates back to before the time of the Catholic Monarchs. Natural goat rennet is used for its fermentation. It is also unique because the milk used comes from an endemic, indigenous and endangered species: the palm goat, of which there are barely 8. 510 specimens all over the world, distributed among 57 herds. All in La Palma.

“Have you seen the horns that goats have?” Ana Laura González asks Beatriz Hernández, field technician of the Association of Palm Goat Breeders. “Normal feeders do not serve me, they do not enter through the hole,” he protests.

The antlers are the first thing that catches the attention of this pre-Hispanic animal. Especially that of the males. Docile and adaptable to any environment, the race formed the basis of the economy and food of the Benahoaritas (also called auritas , the Palmer aborigines). Their milk, according to the Association of Palm Goat Breeders, is “at the level of the best dairy goat breeds.”

Ejemplares de la cabra palmera, propiedad de Ana Laura González.
Specimens of the palm goat, owned by Ana Laura González. PACO PUENTES (THE COUNTRY)

“They are highly valued cheeses. It is difficult for the urban environment to understand what they are losing, ”emphasizes Eva Muñoz, technical secretary of the Association of Palm Goat Breeders, who adds:“ This is not like a fire or a flood, it is not like losing a floor. Here the territory is lost, a change of location is forced. Not only money, culture and history and genetic heritage are lost ”. Muñoz explains that the industry, already in a “quite deep” crisis because the cost of raw materials has risen by 50% in recent months, now suffers a new setback. That is why they demand the help of the Administrations. The ashes that the volcano pours, in addition, have reached the grazing areas, and the goats refuse to eat contaminated vegetation.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Luis Planas, met on 7 October by videoconference with representatives of the island’s agricultural and livestock sector. He assured them that the damaged or unmarketable product will be compensated and reminded them of the option of financing the restoration or reconstruction of the destroyed agricultural and livestock farms, through aid for rural development. The decree approved last Tuesday contemplates a package of aid of 20, 8 million euros, of which 14 million will be direct compensation to owners of agricultural and livestock farms.

Ana Laura looks at her herd with concern. It has 170 females, almost all pregnant. She wanted to avoid stress to her animals, especially due to pregnancies, but it was inevitable: “They went four days without feeding, and it shows.” Perera’s goats have also suffered: “They are calmer, but at first they didn’t even want to eat, horrible.” Her cattle now produce half the milk due to stress.

Beatriz and Ana Laura talk in a room where the cheeses are matured “in the air and without a refrigerator,” explains the farmer. They speak with concern of other colleagues who have lost everything. And they remember what a colleague told them: “I don’t care about the house or the cheese factory. But seeing the burned animals … I can’t do that. ”

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