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Explained: How deadly heatwaves are affecting Spain’s ‘green gold’ harvest


AUGUST 4, 2022

Many southern Spanish hillsides, which are usually unsuited for other crops, are covered with olive trees. Olive oil has been a crucial component of the Mediterranean diet for thousands of years. The world’s biggest exporter of olive oil, Spain, has been endangered by intense heat waves and a lack of rain. According to data, the cost of refined olive oil in Jaen, in southern Spain’s Andalusia area, increased by 8.3% in June compared to the same month in 2016.

World’s largest olive oil producer

According to data made public by the Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC), Spain is the world’s largest producer and exporter of olive oil. Spain made a staggering $167 million from the export of olive oil in 2020. In that year, Spain was responsible for nearly 43% of all olive oil exports worldwide. A little more than 20% of total olive oil exports came from Italy, which was less than half of what Spain exported that year.

Intense heatwaves

The world’s leading exporter of olive oil is at risk of having less production due to intense heatwaves and a lack of rain, according to Spain’s agriculture minister. Nearly half of the world’s production of olive oil comes from Spain. Vegetable oil prices were anticipated to stay high as a result of the setback and ongoing supply disruptions of Ukrainian sunflower oil, according to Planas.

Greatest drought in 70 years

The greatest drought to hit northern Italy in 70 years is threatening supplies of olive oil. According to market sources, the production of olive oil in Italy may have decreased by 20–30 per cent from the previous year. The drought is also anticipated to result in lower apricot, peach, and pear crop yields. According to a recent assessment by the organisation, the quality may also suffer because growers will have to harvest the fruit before it is fully developed. Some farmers could be tempted to begin irrigating their fields, but doing so would further drain already-strained reservoirs.

Other crops also affected

At a time when global food prices are almost at record highs as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which sent the price of wheat and other crops spiralling, the scorching weather throughout most of Europe also poses a threat to disrupt grain output. Due to the high temperatures and little rainfall, Planas predicts that Spain’s total grain production, which includes corn, wheat, and barley, might fall by 13 per cent this year to 17.5 million tonnes.

Shift to sunflower oil

According to research published last month in the journal Nature Geoscience, the Iberian Peninsula is already at its driest point in 1,200 years, and winter rains are predicted to become even less frequent. As a result, Spain and Portugal’s agricultural sectors are among the most vulnerable in Europe. Despite the fact that farmers have extended the planting area for sunflower crops by 25% in an effort to increase sunflower oil production after the Russian invasion of Ukraine disrupted imports, Fernandez cautioned the weather could also have an impact on these crops.

Courtesy/Source: WION / PTI