`Spanish Olive Oil Under Constant Threat From Climate Change

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Spanish Olive Oil Under Constant Threat from Climate Change

Oct. 26, 2012
Naomi Tupper

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Span­ish olive oil out­put has dou­bled in the last ten years, but ongo­ing drought and cli­mate change may mean a set­back for the global leader in liq­uid gold’ pro­duc­tion.

Spain pro­duces 46 per­cent of the world’s olive oil, a total that has increased from 28 per­cent in 2002. How­ever, it is now being sug­gested that the coun­try’s pro­duc­tion may fall to the same fate as fel­low olive oil pro­duc­ing pow­er­houses Greece and Italy due to the effects of cli­mate change. Italy has seen a drop of 50 per­cent in pro­duc­tion since 2001 and Greece has also seen its annual pro­duc­tion lev­els decline by half, with cli­mate change thought to be an impor­tant fac­tor.

The decline of pro­duc­tion in Italy and Greece has had a tem­porar­ily pos­i­tive effect on Spain, which is now pro­duc­ing twice the joint pro­duc­tion of Greece and Italy, hap­pily fill­ing the gap in the mar­ket. Olive oil is of huge impor­tance to the Span­ish agri­cul­ture sec­tor, and is one of the lead­ing agri­cul­tural exports for the coun­try. How­ever, the cur­rent har­vest in Spain will be a poor one, with a 40 per­cent drop in pro­duc­tion due to drought, lead­ing to a huge leap in mar­ket prices for olive oil.

This decreased level of pro­duc­tion may become com­mon­place if con­tin­ued scarcity of water and increased tem­per­a­tures start to effect groves in Spain, as they have else­where on an ongo­ing basis. While high tem­per­a­tures are opti­mal for growth and devel­op­ment of olives, heavy rain is also nec­es­sary to com­plete the ripen­ing process.

Water scarcity affects every con­ti­nent and coun­tries such as Greece and Italy have already suf­fered the dev­as­tat­ing effects of drought, with olives dying at high tem­per­a­tures and from lack of water. In addi­tion to the direct effects of a chang­ing cli­mate on the olive pop­u­la­tion, vari­a­tions in weather can also cause changes in other envi­ron­men­tal fac­tors such as insects and dis­ease. These may then influ­ence the olive tree pop­u­la­tion, an indi­rect effect of chang­ing cli­mates.

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Span­ish researchers have already sug­gested that a key area of Span­ish olive oil pro­duc­tion in Cat­alo­nia, the Siu­rana DOP, may become unvi­able within 20 years due to these increas­ing tem­per­a­tures and water short­ages. Spain is thought to be highly sus­cep­ti­ble to cli­mate change, with the Mediter­ranean Sea ris­ing by eight cen­time­ters in the last 50 years and an aver­age increase in tem­per­a­ture of 0.028 degrees Cel­sius per year. Stud­ies have shown that the flow­er­ing period of olives trees is highly depen­dent on the yearly spring tem­per­a­tures, which are ris­ing steadily over time.

If Spain is to con­tinue its supremacy as an olive oil pro­duc­ing nation, new and inno­v­a­tive irri­ga­tion alter­na­tives will have to be cre­ated to com­bat the con­stantly chang­ing cli­mate. This is no easy task how­ever, as increas­ing irri­ga­tion can have neg­a­tive effects on water sup­plies for the area, lead­ing to desert-like areas and water short­ages for other pur­poses, as has pre­vi­ously been seen in Greece, Italy and Por­tu­gal when irri­ga­tion demands increased.



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