La Gomera, home to some eight thousand souls, is an island stretching 16 miles (25 kilometers) long by 15 miles (24 kilometers) wide, facing the African coast. Most of its land mass stands about 2,625 feet (800 meters) above sea level, and features plantations of bananas, tomatoes, and other Mediterranean fruits and vegetables around steep cliffs descending to the ocean. Agriculture has always been the mainstay of La Gomera ; in addition to growing the traditional fruits and vegetables, which the earliest African settlers brought with them, it was once a major sugar cane producer, employing up to a thousand slaves from the continent. The banana industry arrived fairly recently, in the early twentieth century. But today agriculture represents only 10 percent of the island’s activity and supplies only 25 percent of its inhabitants’ needs. Despite the presence of several freshwater springs and a number of irrigated groves of palm trees, production is severely hampered by a shortage of water. The same is true of metropolitan Spain. In fact, Spain is the driest country in Europe, and 31 percent of its territory is gradually reverting to desert.
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