In the reduced coastal territory of Almería, one can observe several themes of our globalised world: while cutting edge agribusiness technology is in the service of mass-production of out of season vegetables, this industry also employs more than one hundred thousand documented and undocumented workers from Morocco, Mauritania, Mali and many other countries in northwest Africa. Concurrently, scores of tourists from northern European countries and other parts of Spain crowd into the golf and concrete holiday resorts of what it was, fifty years ago, a deserted and poverty-stricken region. However, the fact that the existing aquifer is becoming depleted and contaminated with seawater, pesticides and fertilisers puts into question the sustainability of these industries. The progressive destruction of the existing ecosystems has become increasingly apparent due to the proliferation of illegal housing developments, soil quarries and illegal landfills for agricultural waste and plastic.

Salaries for seasonal workers are somewhere in the region of €20 to €30 for a typical 10 hours shift, with many workers struggling to find work more than two days a week. The collapse of the construction industry in Spain has aggravated the conditions in which most can find a suitable offer to make a bare subsistence living. There are strong nets of solidarity among workers, and many in the fields are getting increasingly and actively involved in trade union activism.

Entirely dependent on the work available in the fields and without transportation, these men live isolated among the greenhouse structures kilometres away from town centres. In September 2000, the greenhouse fields, especially those around El Ejido, witnessed an outburst of racist violence directed towards the migrant communities of Moroccan origin. Ten years after these incidents, the working and living conditions of workers have remained mostly unchanged.

In contrast, a prosperous tourist industry has flourished not far from the greenhouses. Low-cost holiday resorts and golf courses cater for holidaymakers from all over Europe, theme parks, zoos, water parks and all sort of family entertainment are at a very short distance from the scattered slums in which these men live and work. These contemporary places of leisure, along with malls and city centres, have emerged at the same time as areas of exclusion where agricultural workers dare not to enter. There is a widespread pattern of residential segregation based on ethnicity and national origin across many European cities, but this becomes all more evident when economic activity and types of residence so clearly demarcate this relatively small territory.

"Sea of plastic" is a conventional metaphor used to describe this agro-industrial landscape along the A-7 highway in Almería: a white blanket of thick polyethene blending with the Mediterranean sea. For many, this has become a maze of red tape and vague legislation that always works to benefit this industry.

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