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How is climate change affecting Puglia agriculture?

How is climate change affecting Puglia agriculture?

Climate change is finally gaining the media exposure many environmentalists have been calling for for years. With heightened extreme temperatures, people are seeing its impact on everyday life.

It has also not gone unnoticed in Puglia, a Mediterranean region where the hot and dry climate is slowly impacting southern Italy’s agriculture. The future risks are huge and for now, climate change is seeping into annual harvests and building up problems for the farmer, consumer and the region as a whole.

In fact, last year the region suffered a Christmas turnip shortage due to a drought in June and July, followed by excessive humidity. The summer began with a late harvest and ended with masses of rotting vegetables.

In turn, this led to Puglia importing vegetables from elsewhere and having to pass the increased cost of vegetables onto the consumer.

It is very clear that environmental changes are also having a major effect on both crop production and the farming of livestock. The Puglian autumn and winter rainfalls are becoming heavier, while the summer droughts are becoming more intense.

Heavier rainfall is seeing a sharp increase in rising sea levels, which can destroy agricultural land. With Puglia producing 40% of Italy’s olive oil output, this could have a devastating effect on the many olive trees around the region. With the coast already being eroded by human activity, the chance of flooding is only more likely. Rising sea levels mean the fishing industry is severely affected, as well as the many boat hire and boat tour agencies.

At the other extreme, hotter summers are having a significant impact on dry crops, where the harsh sun affects soil fertility. We are also seeing an increase in crop pests. For a region significantly reliant on in-ground crop production, the future impact can be devastating.

Historically, droughts have led to Puglia importing water from surrounding regions in order to fulfil crop irrigation requirements. Besides the environmental risks at play here, it can also distort a country’s trade and currency.

As well as the land, the sun is impacting the animals that graze upon it. Puglia is already seeing species distribution, with animals migrating elsewhere to more ideal conditions. Long-term, this would be likely to stall dairy and meat production. With cheese and cured meat being such huge Puglian exports, these products would be much harder to source.

The animals that are staying, however, are vulnerable to weather-induced illnesses such as heat exhaustion. With temperatures rising, water is not becoming so plentiful and should the heat not abate, the quality of meat and dairy is likely to suffer as a consequence.

Climate change is also having a surprising effect on the increase of animal diseases. A 2017 study found that 82% of animal infectious pathogens are liable to increase due to factors such as rainfall and temperature. With such varying degrees of weather, livestock is prone to bacteria and parasites. One of the most high-risk diseases is leptospirosis, which can cause difficulty breathing and lung disease. Leptospirosis can then be passed to humans through animal urine and cause fatalities.

But there is hope. Anticipating future agricultural shocks, scientists have identified efficient strategies to soothe the effects on food production. These include developing crop resilience, enhancing their stress tolerance and fine-tuning global responses to crop shortages. Adapting land to withstand environmental changes and changing irrigation practices may also be considered.