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Native Andalusian Olive Varieties Could Be Wiped Out by 2100, Researchers Warn

Six of seven varieties studied are expected to have less land suitable for their cultivation. Picual is the exception.

Mar. 10, 2020
By Daniel Dawson

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The amount of land suit­able for olive cul­ti­va­tion will steadily decrease in Andalu­sia over the next 80 years, accord­ing to a study from the Uni­ver­sity of Cór­doba, the Cen­ter for Research in Geo-Space Sci­ences (CICGE) and the Uni­ver­sity of Porto.

While the Picual vari­ety — which is used to pro­duce nearly one-third of the world’s olive oil — and inten­sive farms will be impacted the least, tra­di­tional pro­duc­ers who grow nar­rowly-dis­trib­uted olive vari­eties asso­ci­ated with protested des­ig­na­tions of ori­gin (PGIs and PDOs) could be wiped out.

There will be a reduc­tion in the area avail­able for cul­ti­va­tion of most of the olive vari­eties stud­ied.- Researchers

Using a tool known as species dis­tri­b­u­tion mod­el­ling (SDM) to pre­dict areas suit­able for cer­tain species to sur­vive and thrive based on envi­ron­men­tal char­ac­ter­is­tics, the researchers found that Andalusia’s increas­ingly hot and dry cli­mate is dri­ving the reduc­tion.

The study reveals that there will be a reduc­tion in the area avail­able for cul­ti­va­tion of most of the olive vari­eties stud­ied,” Sal­vador Are­nas-Cas­tro, a researcher at CIGCE, said. It will be mainly due to the decrease in rain­fall and the loss of soil mois­ture.”

See more: Cli­mate Change News

Are­nas-Cas­tro and his col­leagues cre­ated mod­els for seven olive vari­eties and wild olive trees, using eight pre­dic­tive vari­ables. They found that six of the vari­eties along with wild olives would have sub­stan­tially less land suit­able for their cul­ti­va­tion by the end of the cen­tury.

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Except for Picual, for which there was an incre­ment in a suit­able area for the future sce­nar­ios, the future suit­able areas pre­dicted for each vari­ety were sig­nif­i­cantly smaller than the cur­rent ones,” the researchers wrote. The land suit­able for grow­ing Picual, on the other hand, is expected to increase by 25 per­cent by 2100.

This sit­u­a­tion endan­gers tra­di­tional vari­eties, a source of genetic diver­sity that might be very use­ful under new and unfore­seen sce­nar­ios of cli­mate change, dis­eases or pests, or to obtain new vari­eties of olive trees adapted to the new and inno­v­a­tive cul­ti­va­tion tech­niques,” the researchers added.

The Lechín, Man­zanilla, Nevadillo, Hoji­blanco and Picudo vari­eties are expected to have a 100-per­cent decrease in suit­able cul­ti­va­tion land area by 2100. The Ace­buche and Ver­dial vari­eties are expected to expe­ri­ence a decrease of 72 per­cent and 22 per­cent, respec­tively, over the same time period.

Are­nas-Cas­tro warned that the poten­tial loss of olive vari­eties would have a range of con­se­quences for both the land and the peo­ple farm­ing it.

Most of these endemic vari­eties are grouped within the type of olive cul­ti­va­tion called tra­di­tional’ that are more related to remote areas or dif­fi­cult-to-access moun­tain areas, which in turn are less pro­duc­tive,” he told Olive Oil Times.

This type of crop, ahead of the inten­sive or super-inten­sive, har­bors not only an inter­est from the agroe­co­log­i­cal view­point (for the asso­ci­ated bio­di­ver­sity it hosts) but also from the socioe­co­nomic con­text and at a more local scale since it rep­re­sents the sus­te­nance of the econ­omy of regions that would hardly have access to other types of land man­age­ment,” Are­nas-Cas­tro added.

Nearly every olive-grow­ing province in Andalu­sia will be impacted with sig­nif­i­cant decreases pre­dicted in Cádiz, Córdoba, Huelva, Málaga and Sevilla. Jaén is expected to be largely unaf­fected while the moun­tain­ous regions of Granada and Almería will become increas­ingly hab­it­able for Picual olives.

Andalusia’s chang­ing cli­mate is also likely to lead to a decrease in the over­all quan­tity of arable land in the autonomous com­mu­nity. As crop dis­tri­b­u­tion steadily changes over the cen­tury, those that have not tra­di­tion­ally over­lapped may begin to do so, which could bring farm­ers into con­flict.

Changes in the envi­ron­men­tal areas of this crop would affect its redis­tri­b­u­tion to other areas, and may con­flict with other types of crops that are cur­rently being used, such as cere­als, and there­fore caus­ing poten­tial con­flicts,” Are­nas-Cas­tro said.

In this sense, know­ing the pos­si­ble changes that may occur in the near future due to loss of poten­tially arable envi­ron­men­tal area, or redis­tri­b­u­tion of the crop, and there­fore over­lap­ping with other crops, allows these dynam­ics to be antic­i­pated in deci­sion-mak­ing,” he added.

Are­nas-Cas­tro hopes the mod­els can be used by local gov­ern­ments to begin plan­ning for the future. He believes that addi­tional stud­ies should be under­taken to iden­tify olive vari­eties with sim­i­lar attrib­utes to Picual which may be able to thrive in Andalu­sia in the future.

This mod­el­ing frame­work allows us to pre­dict poten­tial changes in the relo­ca­tion of envi­ron­men­tal areas for olive vari­eties, which in turn means that this early-warn­ing sys­tem’ is very use­ful to mit­i­gate the effects of these changes,” he said. There­fore, con­sid­er­ing that the pre­dic­tions are made in the medium-to-long term, I think that the olive grow­ers, but much more the pol­i­cy­mak­ers, have enough time to take action.”

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