Drought in Sicily: Oranges Wither, Cattle Starve

Sicily is facing an unprecedented environmental challenge as it grapples with severe drought conditions that have also afflicted the Western Mediterranean. The region, alongside northern Africa, parts of Spain, and Sardinia, is experiencing the harsh realities of climate change, which amplifies the severity and occurrence of extreme weather phenomena like heatwaves, droughts, and even sporadic heavy rainfall.

In Sicily, the situation has turned dire. The island, which recorded a scorching European high of 48.8°C (119.8°F) in 2021, has seen eight months of nearly complete dryness. This prolonged period of drought, described by the ANBI Observatory on Water Resources as “almost total aridity,” has significantly impacted agriculture and livestock, with the second half of 2023 being the driest in more than a century. Even recent sporadic rainfalls have done little to mitigate the situation.

The drought has had a profound effect on local farms. For instance, Barreca, a 47-year-old farmer and veterinarian, and her sister, who co-manages a dairy farm, are facing steep challenges. They’re now spending an additional 3,000 euros a month on fodder to sustain their 150 cows, whose milk production has drastically dropped due to the poor quality of available hay. The situation is dire enough that some cows on the island have suffered from poisoning due to mouldy fodder, leading to a range of issues from infertility to death.

The agricultural sector is reeling under the impact. Wheat fields, citrus orchards, olive groves, and vineyards are all suffering, with water rationing imposed in numerous towns to manage the scarce resource. The dry conditions have not only reduced the quantity and quality of produce but have also increased the costs of maintaining livestock and crops, pushing farmers like Barreca to consider expensive imports of quality fodder, a solution that remains financially daunting.

As Sicily and its Mediterranean neighbours confront these challenges, the urgent need for solutions and adaptations to combat the effects of climate change has never been clearer. The drought underscores a broader crisis affecting the region’s food security, economy, and the very fabric of rural life. Read More

Credit: phys.org

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