It’s So Hot, They’re Growing Mangoes in Italy | Kanebridge News
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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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David Charette has teamed up with CIRCU Magical Furniture to design spaces that capture the essence of childhood wonder.

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This collaboration between David Charette, founder and principal of Britto Charette, and CIRCU Magical Furniture aims to stimulate the imaginations of children, encouraging them to invent their own tales of adventure. Drawing on his extensive travels, Charette believes that journeying through different cultures can spark creativity in young minds.

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The Sleeping are:

David Charette has transformed a Montreal residence into a magical sleeping area where time seems to pause, and adventures await. Known for its long, cold winters and short days, Montreal served as the perfect backdrop for Charette’s vision of a space that remains warm and bright throughout the year.

Central to the design is the concept of “light and bright,” brought to life using de Gournay‘s hand-painted wall coverings in fresh mint, decorated with flying butterflies. These elements beautifully complement the original shapes of the KOKET Nymph Wall Lamp and the organic curves of the CIRCU Tristen Bed.

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Charette paired the modern lines of the bed with the unique design of the Boca do Lobo Wave Nightstand and the funky style of Delightfull’s Billy Table Lamp. By blending these contemporary pieces with the classic elements in the decor of this luxury kids’ room, Charette has crafted a unique space that breathes a natural breeze of inspiration into any child’s environment.

This combination not only adds aesthetic appeal but also stimulates the imagination, making the room a perfect sanctuary for creativity and dreams.

The seating area:

The room also includes a cozy seating area perfect for young readers. Centred around the CIRCU Dainty Armchair, this space is tailored for kids, with the chair’s delicate structure and elegant design enhancing the room’s charm. Its pink velvet upholstery adds a vibrant pop of color, enriching the room’s palette. To distinctly separate this reading corner from the rest of the sleeping area, Charette chose the Boca Do Lobo Gold Folding Screen from Covet House, which not only adds an element of privacy but also contributes a touch of sophistication to the space.

The Play and Study area:

David Charette aimed to create a space with an “Out of Africa” vibe to spark a child’s imagination and inspire a passion for lifelong adventures and travels. Drawing from fond memories of camping during his own childhood, Charette incorporated a Teepee Tent into the room’s design, allowing children to feel as they are camping in a forest right within their own bedroom.

This nature-inspired theme is beautifully complemented by the Fornasetti wall coverings from Cole & Son and the Filigree Cricket Wall Lamp, which are insect-shaped sconces by Boca do Lobo.

Adding to the ambiance, Charette notes, “The clouds on the ceiling further the idea of camping (in this case “glamping”) and dreaming, and the Circu Cloud Suspension lamps add to the dreamy camping vibe.”

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David Charette designed this luxury children’s room with the hope that it would inspire children to dream, play, and develop a deep respect for nature as they embark on their own adventures.

He crafted the room to be “transitional,” capable of evolving with a child from toddler years into adolescence. This design approach not only aims to create a lasting, imaginative space for children but also to show parents the value of investing in unique, high-quality pieces like those from Circu. These carefully chosen items stand out from mass-produced children’s designs, offering both aesthetic appeal and long-term utility.

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