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Climate change and agriculture
Apr 12, 2021 | written by: Tommaso Ciuffoletti
The March issue of National Geographic Italy dedicates its cover to a report entitled "Climate Change - Tropical fruit in the south, olive trees in the north, vines in the high mountains: a journey through Italian agriculture disrupted by the climate". Reading the report is a bit like being taken by the hand and crossing the peninsula to visit those countryside areas that - less and less inhabited - are silently changing their face as a result of climate change.
It is inevitable that those who live in cities tend to have a muted perception of the effects of climate change, while those who live in less populous areas (often those areas dedicated to agriculture) have a more direct experience of it. It is no coincidence that the editorial by the editor of this edition of National Geographic is entitled 'Ask the farmer'. In fact, before the issue of climate change made its way into public opinion - a long journey that ideally begins with the great insights of Alexander Von Humboldt and ends with Greta Thunberg - it was predominantly an object of attention for farmers, villagers or winegrowers.
I have been working at Treedom for four years now, and one of the things that first convinced me to join the company was the mission to develop agroforestry projects, in which trees are integrated in agricultural ecosystems. In a way, this is global agriculture, an approach that is seen as innovative though in reality what we call agroforestry systems today are actually what agriculture has been for centuries, even in the western world.
Before the advent of large agricultural machinery, chemical fertilisers, large monocultures and the industrialisation of agriculture in general - which in many ways marked the first step towards the demographic surge that we have seen since the middle of the last century (and which, however, is beginning to present a heavy bill in environmental terms) - the intercropping of different species on the same land was a common rule. Of course, it should also be remembered that in many cases it was the survival response of men condemned to work every last square metre of land, in conditions of substantial exploitation such as those imposed, for example, by sharecropping.
Today, however, this type of approach, especially in those countries where agriculture remains the basis not only of the economy but also of society at large, represents a sustainable way forward in which to invest.
Climate change, as mentioned, shows its effects with particular evidence precisely in countries where agriculture still plays a central role, but even in a (relatively) modern country like Italy, it is possible to notice what the European Environment Agency summarised in 2019: "The impacts of climate change on agriculture vary across Europe; while increasing the length of growing seasons may improve crop suitability in northern Europe, the negative effects of climate change will lead to yield losses across Europe, especially in southern Europe".
This is true for crops that are considered typical for our country. The National Geographic report points to a number of interesting facts that show how in Italy the cultivation of tropical fruit plants has gone from a handful of hectares to over 500, an increase of 60 times in just five years. At the same time, the north of the country has become the largest producer of industrial tomatoes (something that was unthinkable just a few years ago). These simple figures speak volumes about how radical climate-induced changes can be. And although it is not always easy to feel the effects, it is worth becoming more sensitive to them so that we can grasp their true extent before they become irreversible.
In the meantime, we prefer to continue planting tropical trees where we are more used to seeing them grow ... and absorb CO2.