It’s So Hot, They’re Growing Mangoes in Italy
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It’s So Hot, They’re Growing Mangoes in Italy

Problems faced by farmers in the Mediterranean offer a preview into the challenges of feeding a warmer planet

By MARGHERITA STANCATI
Thu, Jul 27, 2023 8:33amGrey Clock 5 min

EBRO DELTA, Spain—So much seawater is seeping into the paddy fields of this prized rice-growing region that Montserrat Sérvulo is considering replacing at least some of the crop with seaweed and clams.

“There is too much salt here,” said the 56-year-old farmer, standing on the edge of a field where she used to grow rice until last year. It is now filled with patchy grass and mud. “Last year wasn’t a good year, but at least we had something.”

Rising sea levels, dry spells and heat waves are disrupting food production in the Mediterranean, a region whose diet is regarded as a cultural treasure.

This year, prolonged drought and the scorching heat have hit agricultural production especially hard, wreaking havoc from the olive groves of Spain to the wheat fields of Algeria, reducing yields and pushing farmers to consider switching to hardier crops.

The recent heat wave has affected food production in other ways, too. Cows are producing less milk and bees are less willing to forage for pollen, with honey production down 70% compared with last year in Italy, according to Coldiretti, the country’s agricultural trade association.

Fields on the Ebro Delta are particularly vulnerable to the warming climate.

The climate is changing faster in the Mediterranean than in most places on Earth. Average temperatures here have already risen by around 1.5 degrees Celsius since the dawn of the industrial age, more than in all other regions except the Arctic. The problems farmers face in the Mediterranean offer a preview into the challenges of feeding a hotter planet.

The Ebro Delta, where paddy fields are spread over some 20,000 hectares of land, is so vulnerable because it is coming under the twin pressures of rising sea levels and drought.

Seawater from the Mediterranean is reaching deeper inland than it used to, and there isn’t enough freshwater from the Ebro River to flush out the excess salt from the fields. Because of a prolonged drought, the river was running so dry this year that, for the first time ever, the water supply to the delta was interrupted for long stretches of time.

The result is what some farmers here say is shaping up as the worst harvest they have ever seen. “If we manage to harvest 30% of what we did last year, it will be a lot,” says Sérvulo, who grows rice varieties used to make beer, breakfast cereal and the local specialty, paella.

Short-term solutions include processing more wastewater and covering up canals to limit how much water evaporates. Creating buffer zones to counter coastal erosion, such as through artificial beaches, could also help. But that won’t solve the problem everywhere.

“In some areas, rice production isn’t feasible anymore,” says Carles Ibañez Martí, head of climate change at Eurecat, a Barcelona-based research centre, who has studied the Ebro Delta. “You can fight it to some extent, but adaptation has its limit and at some point you can’t adapt any more, you have to change.”

How close this turning point is depends on how fast the sea levels and temperatures rise. In the rice-producing areas of northern Italy the drought has been so acute this year that some farmers have already planted soybeans, which require less water, instead.

Scientists aren’t optimistic. The latest report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says the effects of global warming in the Mediterranean Sea’s coastal countries are likely to intensify in the coming decades.

Scientists at IRTA, the Institute of Agrifood Research and Technology of Spain’s Catalonia region, are helping farmers adapt to climate change, including by studying fish, seaweed and clam varieties best suited to replace paddy fields in the wetlands of the Ebro Delta.

“We are developing the technology so that when there is need, we can easily transfer it. We need to have data from two-three years of production cycles to show [farmers] it’s a credible, feasible opportunity. If not, they will abandon these areas,” said Enric Gisbert, who oversees the aquaculture division of IRTA. “What is happening here will probably happen in other deltas of the Mediterranean.”

The IRTA has also developed a new breed of apple designed to withstand higher temperatures. Similar studies are happening elsewhere. In Israel, researchers recently developed a new variety of drought-proof tomato.

The drought is stressing the poorer southern rim of the Mediterranean, where economies are being forced to import more wheat and other food staples. In Algeria and Morocco, fields of wheat, barley and other staple crops along the country’s Mediterranean coast have turned yellow well before harvest time, dried out by a persistent lack of rainfall.

“There is no water. We can’t work,” said Mohammed Bahout, 80, whose family grows wheat and barley west of Algiers, in a region between the coast and the Algerian highlands that is the country’s bread basket. He used to grow tomatoes and other vegetables, but the lack of water forced him to grow less water-intensive staple crops instead.

“If the good Lord doesn’t send water, we’re finished,” Bahout said.

Some are trying to make the most of the changing climate. In southern Italy, farmers are growing tropical fruit such as mangoes.

The cultivation of fruits such as bananas, mangoes and avocados has increased threefold in Italy over the past five years, and now covers some 1,200 hectares of farmland in Italy’s southernmost regions of Sicily, Calabria and Puglia, according to Coldiretti.

In northern Italy, the warmer weather has enabled the large-scale production of tomatoes and olive oil—crops that until 15 years ago were a preserve of the peninsula’s central and southern regions.

“An increase in one or 1.5 degrees Celsius means we can now cultivate things such as wheat in northern Italy. But if the rise in temperature is followed by heavy rains and hailstorms with hails as big as tennis balls, that becomes a lot more complicated,” said Lorenzo Bazzana, who is in charge of economic analysis at Coldiretti. “Adapting to climate change isn’t so simple.”

In the Languedoc wine country in southern France, vineyards have been stifled by months of drought and now a heat wave. Lack of rain leaves grapes small and shrivelled, while heat can raise a wine’s alcohol content and dull the characteristic flavours of a terroir.

Languedoc, which stretches along the Mediterranean near Spain, is one of the French regions most at risk from rising heat and longer periods of drought.

“We have rarely seen a period this long without rain,” said Christophe Bousquet, president of Languedoc’s wine growers group. “The grapes aren’t very pretty. There are a lot of them, but they are extremely small.”

Languedoc wine growers are searching for ways to protect their livelihood from the growing impacts of climate change. Bousquet, who owns a vineyard in La Clape, a territory on the Mediterranean, is allowing the grass to grow around his vines to hold more moisture in the soil when it does rain.

They are also looking into planting different grape varieties that can better withstand drought and heat. That is a risky change, Bousquet said, and new vines take years to grow—time he says they don’t have.

“The problem is, time is against us,” he said. “The evolution of the climate in the Mediterranean is happening much faster than anticipated.”

José Bautista contributed to this article



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Anger Does a Lot More Damage to Your Body Than You Realise

We all get mad now and then. But too much anger can cause problems.

By SUMATHI REDDY
Fri, May 24, 2024 3 min

Anger is bad for your health in more ways than you think.

Getting angry doesn’t just hurt our mental health , it’s also damaging to our hearts, brains and gastrointestinal systems, according to doctors and recent research. Of course, it’s a normal emotion that everyone feels—few of us stay serene when a driver cuts us off or a boss makes us stay late. But getting mad too often or for too long can cause problems.

There are ways to keep your anger from doing too much damage. Techniques like meditation can help, as can learning to express your anger in healthier ways.

One recent study looked at anger’s effects on the heart. It found that anger can raise the risk of heart attacks because it impairs the functioning of blood vessels, according to a May study in the Journal of the American Heart Association .

Researchers examined the impact of three different emotions on the heart: anger, anxiety and sadness. One participant group did a task that made them angry, another did a task that made them anxious, while a third did an exercise designed to induce sadness.

The scientists then tested the functioning of the blood vessels in each participant, using a blood pressure cuff to squeeze and release the blood flow in the arm. Those in the angry group had worse blood flow than those in the others; their blood vessels didn’t dilate as much.

“We speculate over time if you’re getting these chronic insults to your arteries because you get angry a lot, that will leave you at risk for having heart disease ,” says Dr. Daichi Shimbo, a professor of medicine at Columbia University and lead author of the study.

Your gastrointestinal system

Doctors are also gaining a better understanding of how anger affects your GI system.

When someone becomes angry, the body produces numerous proteins and hormones that increase inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation can raise your risk of many diseases.

The body’s sympathetic nervous system—or “fight or flight” system—is also activated, which shunts blood away from the gut to major muscles, says Stephen Lupe, director of behavioural medicine at the Cleveland Clinic’s department of gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition. This slows down movement in the GI tract, which can lead to problems like constipation.

In addition, the space in between cells in the lining of the intestines opens up, which allows more food and waste to go in those gaps, creating more inflammation that can fuel symptoms such as stomach pain, bloating or constipation.

Your brain

Anger can harm our cognitive functioning, says Joyce Tam, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. It involves the nerve cells in the prefrontal cortex, the front area of our brain that can affect attention, cognitive control and our ability to regulate emotions.

Anger can trigger the body to release stress hormones into the bloodstream. High levels of stress hormones can damage nerve cells in the brain’s prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus, says Tam.

Damage in the prefrontal cortex can affect decision-making, attention and executive function, she adds.

The hippocampus, meanwhile, is the main part of the brain used in memory. So when neurons are damaged, that can disrupt the ability to learn and retain information, says Tam.

What you can do about it

First, figure out if you’re angry too much or too often. There’s no hard and fast rule. But you may have cause for concern if you’re angry for more days than not, or for large portions of the day, says Antonia Seligowski, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, who studies the brain-heart connection.

Getting mad briefly is different than experiencing chronic anger, she says.

“If you have an angry conversation every now and again or you get upset every now and again, that’s within the normal human experience,” she says. “When a negative emotion is prolonged, when you’re really having a lot more of it and maybe more intensely, that’s where it’s bad for your health.”

Try mental-health exercises. Her group is looking at whether mental-health treatments, like certain types of talk therapy or breathing exercises, may also be able to improve some of the physical problems caused by anger.

Other doctors recommend anger-management strategies. Hypnosis, meditation and mindfulness can help, says the Cleveland Clinic’s Lupe. So too can changing the way you respond to anger.

Slow down your reactions. Try to notice how you feel and slow down your response, and then learn to express it. You also want to make sure you’re not suppressing the feeling, as that can backfire and exacerbate the emotion.

Instead of yelling at a family member when you’re angry or slamming something down, say, “I am angry because X, Y and Z, and therefore I don’t feel like eating with you or I need a hug or support,” suggests Lupe.

“Slow the process down,” he says.

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