In Italy’s southern region of Puglia, turnips are a Christmas lunch staple. But this year, there is a distinct shortage of the root vegetable and it seems climate change is to blame.
Fried, braised, smothered in oil or topping the classic pasta dish orecchiette con cima di rapa, turnips and their tops crop up everywhere in Pugliese cooking over the festive period. December is their time to shine, when they feature in dishes on the 6th to celebrate San Nicola, Bari’s patron saint, during the feast of the Immaculate Conception on the 8th and over the Christmas period.
This year, however, residents of the region are finding themselves having to shell out extortionate sums per kilo for turnips, or forgo the vegetable completely as the supply falls short of demand.
Farmers are citing climate change as the reason for the shortage. “All the vegetable cultivation this year has been damaged, first by drought in June and July,” Carlo Zambelli, director of farmers’ confederation Confagricoltura Puglia, told local press, “and then by excessive humidity that, for days, brought persistent unseasonable fog.” This fog, he explained, was the reason for a late harvest as well as large quantities of turnips rotting in the ground.
A study conducted in 2016 by the Council for Agricultural Research and Agricultural Economic Analysis (CREA) found that turnips were the seventh largest agricultural product in Puglia, with about 65,000 tons produced each year. Puglia is also responsible for 50.1% of Italy’s turnip production. With such a low yield this year, the region is having to import supplies from other zones, resulting in a sharp increase in prices. National newspaper La Repubblica reports that prices in greengrocers and supermarkets, which are usually around €1-2 per kilo, have shot up to as much as €5 or €6 per kilo this year.
Erratic weather patterns and rising temperatures have affected other crops in the region too. Puglia’s branch of the agricultural lobby Coldiretti said damage had been caused to citrus fruits, olives and grapes due to “an anomalous climate caused by a hot winter, frost in spring and a summer divided between heat from Africa, drought and violent storms that continued to hit cities and the countryside throughout fall.”
That this year many of Puglia’s Christmas tables will be bereft of their beloved turnips is a sign of potentially far more damaging effects of climate change to come. Cultivation of indigenous crops like turnips, olives and grapes are central to Puglia’s economy and culture. Climate change now puts at risk centuries of knowledge, traditions and livelihoods.