Macroeconomic data of the Serranos region (Valencia)
This is a region with a traditionally agrarian economy, based on rainfed crops, especially almonds, vines, and cereals. Given its low productivity due to climatic, edaphic, structural, and social factors (due to its relative isolation from cultural or economic currents), agriculture was historically a subsistence activity and can be said to be becoming marginal today. Because of its importance in the regional socio-economic context, it is given its own subsection.
It has a meager population of around 17,000 inhabitants and 1,400 km2, with an average density of 12 inhabitants/km2 (the minimum is only 9 habs./km2, a density comparable to that of certain areas of the Sahara), one of the lowest in the Valencian Community. The depopulation process initiated in the 1960s as a result of “development poles” ceased as far as families are concerned, but is slowly growing among the young population due to a clear lack of vital resources and incentives.
The most current demographic data found correspond to the Anuari Estadístic de la Comunitat Valenciana of 1996 (in electronic format, not published), as well as to the JORDÁN and PREVASA sources.
The active population is around 4,500 people, which represents an activity rate of around 32%, slightly lower than that of the country; it is approximately 29% of the total population.
The industrial fabric is minimal, with notable confectionery industries in Titaguas and textile industries in Chelva, which have contributed in some way to fixing part of the population, although in conditions of job insecurity. Small businesses are not particularly abundant, nor is employment in the services sector. The open-pit mining of kaolin and kaolin sands (clays) is a separate case, with very important economic movements, it could be a regional engine, but unfortunately, there is little left in the region. It employs around 150 people, between mines, wash plants, and transportation of raw materials to industry, and is mainly located in the terms of El Villar, Higueruelas, Losa, Andilla, and Chelva. It produces around 70% of the kaolin and 95% of the clays in the province. On the other hand, the mining industry is responsible for a good part of the erosion in the area, as it does not revegetate the mines after exploitation.
Following in importance is the wood subsector, which employs people only in logging, as there are no processing industries. Agricultural cooperatives and some private companies (considered in the food and beverage subsector) operate in various areas, such as almond processing and marketing, feed production, oenology, oil and wine production, distribution of phytosanitary products, etc., with El Villar standing out for the number of members and activity. The metal subsector has a certain presence in El Villar, with several small workshops and industries. Except for clothing and confectionery, the region’s industry is basically a set of activities focused on the immediate processing of raw materials; it is simply a semi-processing industry. Most of the added value of agricultural, livestock, or forestry productions leaves the region (as in any poorly developed area). For the time being, processing industries prefer to be located near consumption centers, with proximity to them prevailing over proximity to raw material extraction. As a punctual exception, the upcoming installation of a structural ceramic factory in El Villar should be noted, which would absorb part of the mining production and labor force in the area.
The administration has repeatedly considered tourism as a tool to halt the regression of the region. In the 1970s, the extinct I.CO.NA. undertook the massive creation of recreational and camping areas, shelters, fish farms, etc., with a view to promoting tourism. Currently, due to lack of maintenance, they are in serious degradation, timidly beginning to be alleviated by actions of City Councils or the Ministry of Environment, directly or through parallel companies or subsidies; the levels of use of these facilities have always been very seasonal, leaving money in the nearest populations, but sometimes causing problems derived from overcrowding, greatly exceeding the carrying capacity of the areas. The most recent and visible action, the restaurant at El Azud de Tuéjar, sponsored by the ITVA, is underutilized, due to clear overdimensioning in its planning. At a private level, rural tourism initiatives are beginning to take shape, in the form of school farms, hostels, or rehabilitated houses for rent. This boost to private initiative seems to be clearly contributed to by the implementation in the region of the European LEADER II initiative, designed for the overall revitalization of mountain regions.
The phenomenon of seasonal tourism in the region has been evident during the last 20 years, due to the desire to “escape from the city” of the population of the metropolitan area of Valencia, partly due to the increase in their standard of living.
This situation explains why, despite the regional demographic recession, the “stock” of housing has increased (by 12% in the 70s). A first favorable effect of this seasonal population is felt on construction, although not in an exaggerated way. It employs around 5% of the population (many more are submerged), with El Villar standing out with several cooperatives and Chelva, followed by Calles or Tuéjar. There is also some effect on hospitality and commerce, in certain places quite dependent on the seasonal population, with El Villar and Chelva standing out.
There are few and very localized educational centers, with students having to travel several kilometers to attend class, sometimes outside the region; this has been accentuated by the new school map, which will further reduce the number of centers.
Health centers are almost always primary care and do not exist in all population centers, sometimes without daily service, and the existence of at least one specialized center is missing. Patients often have to travel to Lliria or Valencia for certain simple medical procedures.
As mentioned at the beginning and can be easily observed, agriculture is indeed the main activity, employing around 2500 people. The cultivated land covers about 33,400 hectares, which is 27% of the regional area. Of these, 95.7% are dryland and 4.3% are irrigated. Irrigated land, about 1400 hectares, is mainly devoted to maize, potatoes, alfalfa, onions, and apples, with fluctuating areas of between 140 and 270 hectares in each case, concentrated mainly in the Tuéjar, Chelva, and Chulilla districts. The latter has been favored by the Benagéber reservoir canal, which also affects El Villar and Losa, but no transformations have taken place in these areas, and they have not been exploited. In recent years, the area of orange trees has increased considerably in warmer climates such as Chulilla, Gestalgar, Pedralba, and Bugarra. The cultivation of aromatic plants in irrigation is insignificant. In dryland, the main crops are vineyards (8,500 hectares), wheat (2,300 hectares), olive trees (2,200 hectares), almond trees (2,200 hectares), barley (2,000 hectares), and carob trees (1,400 hectares). In recent years, olive cultivation has stabilized, wheat has decreased significantly, and vineyards and almond trees have increased in area.
As for the structure of the farms, the typical fragmentation of land into small holdings that is usual in the country is not very marked in the region, since this is more common in irrigated areas. However, small and medium-sized farms are relevant in the overall picture. The number of farms in the region has decreased compared to the national average, as well as in other inland areas, as a possible consequence of emigration, mainly by farmers or day laborers, who ended up disposing of their land to a large extent. The fragmentation of the farms is much higher than the national average.
Regarding land tenure, fortunately, in the region, it is mainly in ownership (98% in the 1970s), significantly higher than the Spanish average, and the sharecropping or leasing system is very low (3.2% and 0.9%, respectively). On the other hand, the age and occupation of the owners have to do with the process of de-agriculturalization of recent decades. In industrialized regions, there is a high rate of part-time agriculture as a complementary element to the activity of the historically agricultural population. In non-industrialized areas, the farmers who have remained work full-time, to a greater extent than in industrialized regions. Consequently, since the youngest have left the countryside or simply have not integrated into it, there is a clear aging of the agricultural population, which is even more noticeable in regions where agriculture remains an important sector.
Regarding livestock, it is worth noting the pig livestock with around 25,000 heads, sheep (18,000), poultry (70,000), rabbits (15,000), and goats (700). Pigs and sheep, the most important, represent around 11% and 10% of the total provincial livestock, respectively. Sheep numbers have declined significantly due to the lack of substitutes for shepherds who have disappeared, and they are concentrated in Alpuente, Chelva, La Yesa, El Villar, Alcublas, and Andilla. Pig livestock has increased significantly, always in integrated farms, with notable locations in Alpuente, Tuéjar, Chelva, and Titaguas, as well as poultry more recently. As a recent and curious case, the proliferation of ostrich farms, with a total of around 200 heads, stands out in the terms of Titaguas, Bugarra, and La Yesa.
As for forest resources, there are no noteworthy quantities of timber in the provincial economic volume due to the low quality and price of the most abundant timber tree, the Aleppo pine. However, there are around 80,000 hectares of forest land (not counting those burned in recent fires, especially in 1994), with the timber forests mainly located in Tuéjar, to a lesser extent in Titaguas, Andilla, Aras de Alpuente, or Loriguilla. For some municipalities, timber is a relatively important source of income.
These data were extracted from Abel Martínez Monteagudo’s final thesis. As a complement to this work, which takes regional information from an old book by J.M. Jordán Galduf called “Los Serranos,” Abel recommends Carles Rodrigo’s book “La Serranía. Análisis geográfico comarcal,” which has more recent data. It was edited by CELS, of which Carles and Abel are members, and funded by Leader II. If you are interested, you can get it through the Casa de la Cultura de El Villar.