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. But the fact that the existing aquifer is becoming depleted and contaminated with sea water, pesticides and fertilisers clearly 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 illicit 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. However, opposed to what seems to be the norm in other agricultural areas of Spain where local councils consistently provide with temporary housing, in the greenhouse fields only NGO's, religious congregations and the Red Cross seem to be supporting the workers by offering shelter or legal advice. Entirely dependent on the work available in the fields and without means of transportation these men live completely isolated among the greenhouse structures kilometres away from town centres. In September 2000 the greenhouse fields, and especially those around the town of 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 the seasonal and temporary workers in the greenhouse fields have remained largely unchanged.

All this is in sharp contrast with the fact that a prosperous tourist industry has flourished not far from the greenhouses: low cost holiday resorts and golf courses cater for holiday makers 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 this relatively small territory is so clearly demarcated by economic activity and types of residence.

I feel that there is a strong sense of urgency to give a relevant visual account of some of these issues. “Sea of plastic" is a conventional metaphor used to describe this agroindustrial landscape along the A-7 highway in Almería: a white blanket of thick polyethylene blending with the Mediterranean sea. For many who live and work there in the hothouse fields this has rather become a maze in which many have found themselves trapped, a maze of red tape and legislation that is eventually working for the benefit of this industry.