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  • Foto van schrijverShana Hepping

Droughts, failed harvests and fires: the face of 2022's growing season

A cloud of dust fell over us. The light of the early evening sun gave a golden, hazy glow. We followed a road of countless hairpin curves down from the Alps and onto the plains around the river Po. The cold air and pine forests gave way to a warm breeze and yellow acres. It was the end of september, the farmers of the Arborio rice fields surrounding Vercelli were ploughing their lands. The whole plain seemed to be preparing for winter. There was nothing left of the watery world of rice cultivation. The acres were full of barren shrubs of not even 20 centimeter, rooted in cracked earth and covered with a layer of dust. The water that was supposed to flood the fields this season had never arrived. The farmers were confronted with failed harvests, loss of income. Bankruptcy loomed over them like the dark rainy cloud that they wished to see for their crops. Even worse, the rest of Italy faced a true rice shortage.

The following regions we crossed seemed to share a similar fate. The land around the French rivière had the same dry soil. I could see it in the fields that we rode past. It also showed in the ground in which we tried to drive the pegs of our tent, without success. Coming to France, I was looking forward to see the endless fields of sunflowers. But they weren't following the sun, the big yellow giants were turned brown and faced down. To be honest, I had only seen them in summer, maybe this was how they would always look in the early autumn. In response to the war in Ukraine, French farmers had just upped their production, but the intended gains did not materialise (source: Boerderij). France too declared a National crisis of water shortage.

Fighting fire with fire is in reality a very effective strategy to put out fire. Because, in places where there's no water to be found, there's no other option.

The drought continues into the Spanish Pyrenees. Riding a Blablacar (not the bike?! Read that story here), my travel companion pointed out a fully blackened mountainside. She is a forestal firefighter and is greatly worried about how people deal with fire. 'People are afraid of fire, and try to completely prevent it from happening' she said. 'But it’s something so beautiful and natural. Think of lightning striking the earth, fire follows and clears out a section of the forest. It’s a natural reset. When people try to prevent fires, a forest fire may grow so big that it destroys everything.’ She saw how Catalonia sees more fires due to climate change, but also that people don't care enough for the nature around them. Monocultures and large areas of parasitic plants don't make anything any better.

Even more interestingly, she taught me that fighting fire with fire is in reality a very effective strategy to put out fire, especially in dry areas. That might even have general truth in it. Maybe climate change and impactful natural events should be fought with measures that are just as rigorous. Because, in places where there's no water to be found, there's no other option.

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