Climate Change Hits Olive Oil Production

This headline has been repeated worldwide in recent months and shows how climate situation affects food production everywhere

By Carlos Roa

In October 2023, a headline from The Washington Post drew attention to an unusual piece of news: “Olive oil prices reach record highs as Spain’s harvest is halved”. The summary of the article adds that extreme weather is decimating yields from major producers.

The news has garnered attention from several media outlets worldwide in the last quarter, as it shows how climate change affects crops, food supply availability, prices, and the global economy.

Due to two consecutive years of drought and storms in Spain, the global olive oil industry is facing a significant downturn in supplies, leading to a notable increase in prices.

Understanding the Vulnerability

Spain is a major player in the olive oil market, responsible for roughly 45% of the global production, according to the North American Olive Oil Association. Its productivity has been severely affected by adverse weather conditions.

As a result, the reduction in production in Spain, coupled with similar challenges in other olive-growing regions of Europe such as Italy and Greece, is contributing to a substantial impact on both olive and olive oil supply chains. This underscores the vulnerability of the industry to climate-related disruptions.

Moreover, this specific situation exemplifies how climate affects food production around the world. The US Department of Agriculture states that “Climate change can affect the availability, access, and utilization of food, as well as the stability of each of these aspects over time. Constraints at any point can lead to food insecurity through the activities of the food system, including food production, transportation, and storage.”

Foreseeing a Sustainable Future

Are we, as a global community, prepared and ready to navigate through this extremely delicate situation? The answer is still pending. However, we can affirm that commitment to climate action stands as our only path to tackle the impact of heatwaves and droughts on our food supply. It’s a shared journey, and together, our efforts can make a significant difference.

In this regard, the Environmental Protection Agency states that “U.S. agriculture already has many practices in place to adapt to a changing climate, including crop rotation and integrated pest management. A good deal of research is also underway to help prepare for a changing climate.”

The United Nations website features an article by Professor John Roy Porter (University of Greenwich, England), affirming that “We need to combat the negative effects of climate change on food security in many different ways: reducing greenhouse emissions to mitigate the climate change that will occur; improving the resilience of the global food system to climate change; and developing early warning systems that can alert us in time when nature is about to unleash its fury.”

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