Will climate change affect olive crops?

Will climate change affect olive crops?

I am glad I read the article “How climate change is playing havoc with olive oil (and farmers)” in the New York Times prior to attending the 13th Ayvalık International Olive Harvest Days festival organized by the Ayvalık Chamber of Commerce. This year’s festival started on Nov. 3 in the Ayvalık district of the Balıkesir province.

The New York Times article recounted farmers’ experiences with drought and unpredictable weather conditions in extensive interviews with Italian families from Tuscany to Sicily.

One farmer, whose family has cultivated olives for eight generations, says: “Speaking of olive oil, the first thing that comes to our minds is the Mediterranean basin, but I am afraid California, Australia and New Zealand will take this advantage from us in the coming years.”

In recent years, Italy has produced 20 percent less crops compared to the years 2000-2010 due to severe drought. Spain and Greece are also facing the same situation because of drought. So is it actually possible for Ayvalık, which presents itself as the “olive oil capital,” not to be affected by climate change?

The slogan for this year’s Ayvalık Harvest Days festival is “Olive oil: A national value aiming for the whole world.”

I asked Ali Kürşat, a fourth generation representative of Kürşat Zeytinyağı, a family business, what Ayvalık farmers must face regarding climate change.

“We do not have four seasons anymore. Spring and autumn, essential for the olive tree, have almost disappeared. The Mediterranean is sliding towards a tropical climate and our region is also affected by this. There is either drought or excessive rain,” Kürşat says.

“In some years, just like Italy, our harvest is 20 percent less than the harvests we used to have. If you plan to harvest 80 kilos of crops from a well-kept tree, you end up with 60 kilos,” he said.

He also said this year rain showers came in July. Then there was no rain until October.

In response to their high harvest expectations, the olives are small and wrinkled.

“Climate change has serious effects but the sector is not talking about it yet,” said Kürşat, stressing noteworthy example of changes caused by man-made factors.

Bats that eat olive flies have disappeared

When the Havran Dam opened a couple of years ago in Turkey’s northwest Balıkesir province, it destroyed bat caves, and the bats that feed on olive flies vanished.

We must not break Mother Nature’s cycle.

I would like to see the Ayvalık Chamber of Commerce discuss the drought in the Mediterranean basin at an international platform in next year’s meeting.

Ayvalık’s gourmet tastes competition

Some heartwarming news has come from Ayvalık.

The “Olive Seeds” initiative provides music education to children from disadvantaged areas in Ayvalık courtesy of volunteer teachers.

So far the project has reached 1,500 children. “Olive Seeds” coordinator Gül Gürsoy has ambitions to introduce children who have been playing a musical instrument for three years to UNESCO in Paris.

Ayvalık is on UNESCO’s temporary World Heritage List, in the “Industrial Cultural Landscape” category.

“These children must learn what World Heritage means in order to protect the future,” Gül says.

Another project is the “Ayvalık’s Gourmet Tastes Competition,” which should boost Ayvalık’s “gastronomy tourism.”

As a matter of fact, the Gastronomy Tourism Association did not include Ayvalık among its chosen cities, despite my interventions, which is a shame because Ayvalık has a rooted kitchen culture.

I advise the association to take a look at the competition’s website: www.ayvalıklezzetnoktalari. 

Gila Benmayor,