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Italy's Famous Po Valley Rice Paddies Decimated By Drought

Italy's Famous Po Valley Rice Paddies Decimated By Drought

By Brigitte HAGEMANN

The roar of Dario Vicini's motorcycle cuts through the silence as he drives across his rice paddy to survey the destruction wrought by Italy's worst drought in 70 years.

His fields are nothing but desolation, with  stems slowly dying in the sandy ground.

"Under normal circumstances, I would never have been able to ride my motorcycle over the field," Vicini explained to AFP.

"At this time of year, the plants would be up to my knees and the  would be flooded," he said.

"Here, they're tiny, because the water needed to irrigate them has never arrived."

Vicini's "Stella" farm, located in the village of Zeme in the Po Valley, 70 kilometres (43 miles) southwest of Milan, is part of Italy's "golden triangle" of .

Europe's leading rice-growing region—which supplies Italy and the world with the country's famous arborio for risotto and many other varieties—stretches west from Pavia in Lombardy to Vercelli and Novara in Piedmont.

Vicini said the area's last "decent rain" came in December.

"It's the fault of climate change," said the 58-year-old farmer, who estimates his income has fallen by 80 to 90 percent.

Enrico Sedino, another farmer in the area, is even more worried.

Parts of the Po river bed have dried up entirely as the drought worsens.

Parts of the Po river bed have dried up entirely as the drought worsens.

"If there's no more water, I can lose up to 100 percent of my turnover," he said.

Around the rice paddies, cracks are visible in the parched earth and the feeble, stunted rice shoots are covered with a thin layer of dust.

The small irrigation canals that run alongside the fields are dry, or nearly so.

The waters of the Po River—Italy's longest river whose flat drainage basin is the wide, fertile plain perfect for growing rice—are this year at a historically low level not seen since 1952.

The water, when it comes, arrives in dribs and drabs.

Lunar landscape

Zeme Mayor Massimo Saronni, a rice farmer himself for three decades, said that not only is the harvest suffering "but the whole ecosystem is withering away".

Before, the rice paddies resounded with the song of crickets and the croaking of frogs, while clouds of dragonflies flittered above the fields. Freshwater birds like grey herons and white ibises fed on insects.

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