Although Climate Change is an escalating global challenge, it’s especially relevant for Spain, as it is one of the EU countries expected to be affected the most by the climate crisis, impacting various sectors, including agriculture.
The size of a Spanish farmer’s farm can vary widely. Some farmers operate small family-owned plots, while others might manage larger estates. In recent years, there has been a trend toward consolidating smaller farms into more extensive operations, especially in certain regions. Spain has a diverse agricultural sector, producing a wide range of crops and livestock, including olives, citrus fruits, wine grapes, cereal grains, and vegetables.
The agricultural food sector is one of the driving forces of the Spanish economy, accounting for nearly 6% of the national GDP. However, the sector depends on agricultural production threatened by climate change. Although regional differences may appear, no area is immune to climate change. Some common national challenges posed by Climate Change are reduced rainfall, record high temperatures, torrential rains, and hail events that have also taken their toll on outdoor production and pastures.
The consequences are already in place:
- Some 20% of mainland Spain is currently desertified, and nearly three-fourths are at risk of desertification. Today, 27% of Spanish territory is classified as in drought “emergency” or “alert,” according to the Ecological Transition Ministry, which has definitively impacted innovating and adapting irrigation methods.
- Water shortages, alongside with rising prices of raw/basic materials – i.e., pesticides- and energy have also caused many farmers to abandon spring planting, especially of cereals and oilseeds, with the risk of food shortages and an explosion in prices.
- Rising temperatures pose another significant challenge. Spanish farmers have observed shifts in crop growth cycles, flowering times, and pest and disease patterns. To counter these changes, they are integrating agroecological approaches, such as crop rotation, companion planting, and integrated pest management, reducing the need for chemical inputs while fostering biodiversity. Furthermore, they are experimenting with heat-tolerant crop varieties and protected cultivation techniques, like greenhouses and shade nets, to shield their produce from extreme heat and sun.
- Fires: Some 267,000 hectares (666,000 acres) of land burned last year in Spain, making 2022 its worst year of fire destruction since 1994, government statistics say.
As a result of the above, every year, 6% of the value of agricultural production in Spain is lost, more than 550 million euros. This is the result of the first major informative study “The countdown is on. Impacts of climate change on Spanish agriculture” carried out by farmers’ organization COAG.
In the face of the challenges posed by climate change, farmers are not standing idle, but more supportive policies and initiatives are needed, including investment in research and development to develop new technologies and practices, as well as policies that encourage the adoption of climate-smart agriculture, being competitive in global markets as well. In fact, the Spanish government approved in May a package of measures worth more than €2 billion to combat a severe drought threatening water resources and agriculture. Additionally, governmental initiatives are providing financial support and incentives to encourage the adoption of sustainable practices, such as afforestation, cover cropping, and organic farming, alongside and in collaboration and support of EU agricultural policies.
In conclusion, Spanish farmers are confronting the impacts of climate change with a blend of tradition and innovation. The synergy between local knowledge & farmer’s best practices, scientific research, and government support is creating a foundation for Spanish agriculture to thrive amidst the challenges presented by climate change. Although collaboration between farmers, scientists, and policymakers is crucial for Spain’s adaptation efforts, it is becoming harder to do in times of political instability. As remarked by William Chislett from Elcano Royal Institute: “As with so many other issues, the very polarised and aggressive political climate does not make for the kind of consensus needed for a successful ecological transition”.
This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Spain Country Manager Isabel Castillo
Learn More References
La Moncloa (Spanish Prime Minister Cabinet). Moncloa https://www.lamoncloa.gob.es/lang/en/gobierno/news/paginas/2023/20230524_drought-measures.aspx. May 2023.
Pau Costa Foundation, www.paucosafoundation.org
Spain to be hard hit by climate change. William Chislett. Real Instituto Elcano. February 2023.
The countdown is on. Impacts of climate change on Spanish agriculture. COAG.
 Source from La Moncloa (Spanish Prime Minister Cabinet). Moncloa https://www.lamoncloa.gob.es/lang/en/gobierno/news/paginas/2023/20230524_drought-measures.aspx
 Data from Pau Costa Foundation, a nonprofit group based in Barcelona that works for fire prevention awareness.
 Full text available at https://www.realinstitutoelcano.org/en/blog/spain-to-be-hard-hit-by-climate-change/