Mediterranean Olive Grove and Climate Change: Future Impacts and Adaptation Strategies, by Ibrahim Prazeres

University of Évora | Weekly Register
Olive Grove

Olive growing is a millennial traditional crop in the Mediterranean basin and one of the most significant agricultural activities in Portugal, from a financial, social, and ecological point of view. Intensive cultivation practices, combined with the Mediterranean climate, have been questioned regarding soil management, erosion, desertification, and degradation of water resources. Sustainable management practices have also been applied, studied, and compared in terms of their results. Recycled organic material in olive groves has been shown to be a valuable source of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. However, while recycling available organic materials can help increase soil carbon storage and provide mineral nutrients, in most cases they are not sufficient to replace conventional fertilizers. High carbon contents in pruning residue can be mitigated by adopting sustainable olive grove management and modified pruning, resulting from a well-balanced relationship between vegetative growth and fruiting. Major fluctuations in olive yields can be gradually stabilized by applying sustainable crop management. The reduced consumption of inputs reduces the carbon-environment footprint and increases the resilience of the agro-ecosystem. All these scientific results can be integrated into the agricultural and environmental policy of the Mediterranean countries to realize a circular economy.

In the Mediterranean region, the olive tree is considered one of the most adapted species to the climate, if the olive grove management is based on the following two essential pillars, one of improving soil fertility by increasing organic matter, and the other, of adjusting pruning, tree growth, and fruit load, with the management of available water and nutrients, and with the climate, in each area and year.

Future challenges related to climate change threaten olive growing and olive and olive oil producers in the Mediterranean Basin, a sensitive area in the face of warming and drying projections and trends, considered a climate change “hot spot.” As a result, short- and long-term adaptation strategies to these climate changes and this hotter, drier, more arid future must be planned in a timely manner by decision-makers and other industry stakeholders.

Having objective information that can be used to manage the olive grove adequately to adapt/mitigate the impacts of climate change on the ecosystem is fundamental. To this end, having viable climate projections, supported by sound environmental and socioeconomic knowledge, will be of great value. This may support different adaptation strategies, as a single strategy may not be sufficient to neutralize the negative impacts of climate change. Also the combination of using cultivars with early flowering and less need for irrigation can be another strategy. The sustainable management of the olive grove and olive oil production is another strategy pursued by the PSAA (Alentejo Olive Oil Sustainability Program), with the purpose of improving environmental, social and economic performance in the Alentejo region and the creation and promotion of knowledge.

In fact, to effectively deal with projected climate change, one of the key strategies, in the short or long term, is to create and disseminate knowledge by giving more attention to and broadening the spectrum of applied research. On the one hand, the adaptation potential of different strategies to deal with the impacts of climate change needs to be clarified through scientific knowledge. On the other hand, there is a lack of knowledge about how climate change can be beneficial to the agricultural sector. Finally, because it is important to know how the new circular business models can be configured in the olive sector. For all this, knowledge and its transmission is fundamental!

November 30, 2022

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