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The Catalan Office for Climate Change publishes a study on the adaptation to climate change of the agricultural sector of the Alt Pirineu i Aran


The Catalan Office for Climate Change, in the framework of Life MEDACC project and with the collaboration of l'Espigall, publishes the study Adaptation to climate change in the agricultural sector of Alt Pirineu i Aran: risks and opportunities. The objectives of the study are:

  • Obtain a synthetic radiograph of the agricultural sector of the Alt Pirineu i Aran and its current economic potential. Identify the soils of agricultural suitability.
  • Detect the main impacts of climate change on Pyrenean agriculture.
  • Determine which crops are likely to be recovered or maintained at the Alt Pirineu i Aran and the new opportunities opened by climate change.
  • Estimate the total agricultural production and market value in different production scenarios and the impact on labour occupation (the possibility of setting population in the territory).

The predetermined hypotheses in the study are:

  • A change of production approach is needed: from the current agriculture for animal feed to agriculture for human consumption.
  • Extensive grazing should be encouraged -most of which is now stabled- as a guarantee of freeing agricultural land in the valleys for the production of food for human consumption, maintaining and improving the landscape and ecosystems that depend on grazing, while containing afforestation.
  • Water resources in the area are in decline and, therefore, the potential for creating new irrigated areas to diversify agriculture is low.

The study shows that climate change will significantly affect the Alt Pirineu i Aran agriculture by making the dry Mediterranean climate visibly penetrate into the cooler valleys by 2030-2050. Likewise, the rigor of the winters will be less and the days of frost will be reduced drastically in the whole scope. The summers will be longer, hotter and, especially, drier.

If unlimited water were available on all agricultural plots, climate forecasts for 2030-50 would increase production, especially in the cooler regions. It should be noted, however, that this situation is considered unlikely (water is never unlimited, on the contrary) and, with the current configuration of irrigation, the impact of climate change will change the distribution of crops, especially in rainfed areas.

Thus, the gross income of the agricultural sector in the Pyrenees is now estimated at M€ 84.3 and in the 2030-50 scenario there will be an estimated reduction in income of 8.9%. Avoiding this negative impact must be the driving force for a change that should be especially important in large areas where irrigation cannot or will not be provided.

Therefore, actual crop diversification should occur in dry lands where the room for manoeuvre will be much smaller than in irrigated areas. In these spaces, typical Mediterranean crops (vine, olive, cereals,...) and some fruit trees with few water demands will be the most favoured. On the contrary, some traditional crops of the Pyrenean dry land, such as potato, will suffer a strong regression or others of new implantation, as the apple tree or pear tree, they must make a place in the irrigated spaces and compete with fodder, orchard or other products that may have a greater added value.

In this sense, climate change may be the plunger to initiate a thorough modification of the agricultural economy of the Alt Pirineu i Aran which should be based on:

  • Firstly, increased grazing in alpine meadows and in non-agricultural areas of the valleys as a guarantee to relieve pressure on agricultural land and reverse the trend of forest progress and loss of associated biodiversity.
  • Secondly, with this proposal for intensification of extensive grazing, 26,103 hectares of agricultural land could be freed up for production for human consumption based on maximum economic yield and minimum water consumption. Gross incomes of the agricultural sector in the future scenario could reach M€ 181.1 (78.3% corresponding to the part of the 10 crops focused on human consumption) compared to current M€ 84.3 or M€ 76,7 planned for the same scenario 2030-50.

You can also check the language version in Aranese of the executive summary.