A historic drought in Italy could endanger 30% of the country’s agricultural production, agriculture minister Stefano Patuanelli warned lawmakers Wednesday, threatening output of staples like olive oil, arborio rice and tomatoes.
The latest government research shows that Italy lost nearly one-fifth of its water supply from 1991 to 2020 compared to 1921 to 1950, Patuanelli told members of the Italian parliament’s lower chamber, according to an Associated Press translation.
The data suggests Italy could experience additional losses as much as 40% of available water sources in the coming decades, which Patuanelli described as a “slow but unrelenting wasting away of water.”
How above-average temperatures and lack of rainfall will affect the basin of the Po, Italy’s longest river which flows across the country’s north, is particularly concerning because the area is responsible for a third of national agriculture production, Patuanelli said.
The drought could negatively impact the cultivation of the crops that grow in the area, Patuanelli said according to AP, naming tomatoes, corn and rice (the Po area is a leading producer of arborio rice, the preferred grain for making risotto) and the production of the prosciutto ham the region is known for.
Mintec market analyst Kyle Holland told the Guardian Italian production of olive oil could fall between 20% and 30% compared to last year, noting that soil moisture levels are critically low, which an olive oil specialist told the newspaper could also affect the number of apricots, peaches and pears produced in the region.
$3 billion. That’s how much Italian farmers have lost amid the drought, according to Italy’s main farm lobby Coldiretti, which noted farmers have also had to face sky-high energy prices because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Italy last week declared a state of emergency in the Po River basin and surrounding areas as the river’s water level dropped to the lowest measurements recorded in 70 years. The water is so low that in March a World War II-era military vehicle that was abandoned in the river by retreating German troops reemerged in the dry river bed. While droughts historically occur on a cyclical basis in Italy, research indicates they will occur more often in the coming years and “with ever more devastating consequences,” Patuanelli said Wednesday. He added that the effects of the drought have been exacerbated by Italy’s poor water infrastructure, which loses an estimated 42% of drinking water largely because of old pipes
Prime Minister Mario Draghi said last week “there is no doubt” that climate change has contributed to the drought. Last week, 11 people were killed in the Italian Alps after a melting glacier caused an avalanche.