Balázs Beke has been studying international business in English at the Corvinus University of Budapest for two years, but as an “exciting outlook”, he won the Carpathian Basin Study Competition organised by the MNB’s (Hungarian Central Bank) Education Club, where one of the topics was the relationship between climate change and agriculture. The winning essay focused on agricultural trends and foreign trade in the region.
Why did you enter the competition, and how did you choose this particular topic, since your studies are not really about this?
The title of my paper is ‘The relationship between climate change and agriculture, changes in the structure of agricultural production, and the transformation of foreign trade in the Carpathian Basin region’. It is true that this topic is not directly related to my university studies, but it seemed to be the most special of the three options. As a field of study previously unknown to me, agriculture provided a great opportunity to broaden my horizon and learn about a new discipline. In addition to the Hungarian competitors, the competition attracted students from Hungarian-inhabited areas beyond the borders, and a lot of students submitted papers from Transylvania, Transcarpathia and Vojvodina. Ten competitors made it to the final, after their essays of nearly 50,000 characters were assessed by a professional jury in three weeks. In the final round, the task was to present and defend the conclusion of the essay in front of the President and the professional committee of the MNB’s Education Club.
We have been writing, talking and making efforts about climate change for at least 20 years, but even without any research, we can see that extreme heat waves, droughts, flash floods and other weather phenomena that were previously unusual in our country are now becoming more frequent.
Indeed, much of what is happening today is a consequence of climate change that is difficult or impossible to reverse. I hope, however, that the world’s influential leaders will act responsibly and increase the energy and money invested in the fight against climate change in proportion to the seriousness of the phenomenon. Despite the alarming trends, we can see positive developments, too. Today, for example, environmentally conscious lifestyles are becoming more common, with sustainable development being a guiding principle for many organisations and institutions. Climate change is affecting countries around the world differently. The regions most at risk are where the adverse effects of global warming and population explosion are occurring simultaneously. Typically, a significant proportion of society in these areas is directly or indirectly related to agriculture, and the vast majority of the population live from agriculture. Many countries in the Sahel region of Africa, such as Chad or Namibia, are good examples. The supply of food for the population of this region is uncertain and difficult compared to Europe – just think of the shortage of grain imported from Ukraine! Our region, similarly to European core countries, is not in immediate danger, the shortage of cereals is indicated “merely” by rising prices. Global poverty is another important factor, as most of the people classified by the FAO as poor – those living on USD 1.25 a day or less – live in rural areas of low-income countries. Countries whose agricultural production accounts for a significant share of their gross domestic product are particularly vulnerable to climate anomalies due to climate change. In the coming decades, the structure of agricultural production is likely to change, with yields of some crops falling and thus potentially disrupting world trade and threatening the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people.
And our region? What can we expect here in Hungary?
The Carpathian Basin is not immune to the effects of climate change, either: unpredictable weather conditions, dry and hot summers and decreasing precipitation of variable intensity are becoming more frequent. Yields of cereals and industrial crops are expected to fall, despite the fact that plants themselves are trying to adapt to the changed conditions, with new habitats and changes in their development phases (e.g. earlier flowering), and physiological changes may also take place in plants. Among the dominant crop types in Hungary, maize is more adaptable, while wheat and barley are less flexible, but it is true for the cultivation of all crops that rising temperatures and the prevalence of dry summers pose serious challenges for the agricultural sector.
How can we combat this?
Based on the logic of evolution, the natural adaptability of plants helps them to adapt to a changing environment to some extent, but the process is slow and partial. Climate change, however, is a dynamic and unpredictable process that goes hand in hand with the combined modification of a number of environmental factors. Research into plant adaptability is being carried out in many parts of the world, but breakthrough results are delayed by a number of difficulties, such as time and resource constraints. The attempts, however, are not hopeless, and there are successful examples in Hungarian history, too – just think of the phylloxera epidemic of 1871, when resistant grapes brought from the USA and grown in the sandy plains were used to make up for the shortage of grapes in the historic wine regions.
This will obviously have a very strong impact on foreign trade, too.
Indeed, trade relations between the countries of the region – thinking about Hungary, as well as Romania, Slovakia and Serbia – will remain close, but their composition will change. Hungary’s agricultural trade balance is currently positive, but in the coming decades we can expect imports to increase and agricultural exports to fall. The crop structure of the Carpathian Basin will change significantly, partly because species of low adaptivity will be driven back, and partly because new, more resistant and climate-compatible species will spread. It is likely that, in order to make up for future shortfalls in yields compared to the present level, imports of cereals and industrial crops from exporting areas located further away from the region will increase, and the role of agriculture in trade among the countries of the region will decline. Further analysis of these issues is, in my view, essential.
Who helped you write your successful essay at the Corvinus?
I would say it was the university community, fellow students and lecturers are an inspiration, and you can ask anyone for help. Students’ activity is a motivating force, as many of them enter competitions and achieve outstanding results. Nearly 50 student associations operating at the University help students with similar interests to find professional and friendly communities and to acquire success-oriented attitudes. In summary, everything is in place to encourage students to research, learn and do more and better than expected.