Once Again, Olive Growers in Western Mediterranean Face Severe Drought

In Andalusia, rainfed olive groves are barren. Similar situations have been reported in North Africa. Officials in Europe are focusing on the soil to mitigate the drought.
The cracked ground of the La Vinuela reservoir Malaga, Spain - 22 Mar 2023 (Photo by Jesus Merida / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)
By Máté Pálfi
Jun. 26, 2023 15:07 UTC

In irri­gated olive groves, farm­ers in Andalusia are strug­gling to pro­vide enough water to their trees to with­stand the harsh sum­mer con­di­tions.

The recent rain­fall has brought some relief to the trees’ olive devel­op­ment, but the over­all fruit set has been dis­ap­point­ing, with plenty of bar­ren groves.

Officials say the Andalusian olive har­vest is expected to be shorter due to cli­mate change; high tem­per­a­tures and pro­longed drought have resulted in lower fruit­sets and sig­nif­i­cantly less oil accu­mu­la­tion.

See Also:Andalusian Ag Minister Pushes for A More Resilient Olive Oil Sector

Once again, high spring­time tem­per­a­tures resulted in early blooms among the olive groves of the world’s largest olive oil-pro­duc­ing region. These were fol­lowed by scorch­ing tem­per­a­tures in May, which dam­aged the blos­soms and pre­vented many trees from devel­op­ing fruit.

The rain­fed har­vest is con­sid­ered lost, while in irri­gated land, we are try­ing to add as lit­tle water as pos­si­ble as often as pos­si­ble because the water we have will have to last through June, July, August and September,” Juan Luis Ávila, the head of the Coordinator of Agriculture and Livestock Organizations (COAG), told local media.

According to Ávila, there are 400 cubic meters of water in Andalusia reserved for agri­cul­ture, com­pared to the usual 1,500 cubic meters. The per­sis­tent drought has also reduced soil mois­ture, dimin­ished river flow and stunted plant and crop growth.

In response, the Spanish gov­ern­ment recently approved a €2 bil­lion finan­cial sup­port pack­age to improve water infra­struc­ture and pro­vide direct aid to ranch­ers and farm­ers.

Furthermore, the lat­est report from the Copernicus Drought Observatory high­lights the extent of water scarcity in the Western Mediterranean, where severe drought has become the norm in the past few years.

Temperatures in south­ern Spain, Morocco, Algeria, north­ern Italy and south­ern France were 2.5 ºC above aver­age, with some areas expe­ri­enc­ing an alarm­ing 4 ºC increase between May 2022 and April 2023.

Data from the European Commission’s Joint Research Center show that river flows across the west­ern Mediterranean are extremely low due to inad­e­quate pre­cip­i­ta­tion.

As a result, most of the west­ern Mediterranean is cur­rently under warn­ing and alert con­di­tions, the two most severe lev­els, accord­ing to the com­bined drought indi­ca­tor, which incor­po­rates data on rain­fall, soil mois­ture and veg­e­ta­tive stress.

The Iberian Peninsula (exclud­ing north­ern Portugal), North Africa and cen­tral-south­ern France have wit­nessed sig­nif­i­cant veg­e­ta­tion stress, includ­ing crop fail­ures and smaller olive dru­pes than usual.

Yield fore­casts for the Maghreb region have plum­meted well below aver­age lev­els, rais­ing con­cerns about the bloom­ing of crops in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.

In the face of inten­si­fied drought con­di­tions in the Iberian Peninsula and reduced yield pre­dic­tions, there is some relief in other parts of Europe.

Adequate rain­fall in the Balkans, Turkey and some parts of Italy and France have pro­vided some respite for coun­tries in the region.

The Mediterranean Agricultural Markets Network has empha­sized the need to improve soil man­age­ment in response to the drought. The European Commission is expected to pro­pose a soil law this sum­mer.

The pro­posed law would pro­mote soil health and work to make the European Union’s agri­cul­tural sec­tor more resilient to drought.


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