Dry taps in Arizona, but the water is used to irrigate the fields of Saudis and Emirates: they grow alfalfa for their cattle – Il Fatto Quotidiano

Very few of the inhabitants of the La Paz County of theArizona – 16 thousand souls – would be able to indicate on the world map the Persian Gulfyet if their taps are dry they owe it to rich petromonarchies like Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. They are victims of the phenomenon that is called “virtual water”. Through their companies, the two Arab states have purchased hundreds of thousands of hectares over the years farmland in Arizona and California. Here it is grown intensively the medical herb – crop with a very high need of water for growth – destined for export. It is shipped to Saudi Arabia where it is used for feed the cattle, helping to support the Kingdom’s dairy industry. Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, given their water resources, could not manage such crops.

The entire American Southwest is facing the worst drought in 1,200 years and aquifers are a lifeline but even these are drying up. Residents of La Paz County have their faucets dry because the surrounding farmland – in the hands of Gulf companies – has no restrictions on drawing water from the aquifers, while that intended for human use has been rationed. One country’s ability to grow and produce crops using another country’s natural resources can be quite profitable. But the export of virtual water – water incorporated in agricultural products – can have a devastating impactin fact the Water Authority of Arizona has denounced the fact that some wells are now dry. And among other things the Saudi society Fondomonte accesses water at a almost symbolic priceone sixth of the market price for agricultural water.

There’s no hard data on how much water the company pumps out of aquifers, but a report from the Arizona Department of Water estimates it uses million cubic meters each yearenough to restock 54,000 single-family homes and the population of La Paz is about 16 thousand people. It’s not even clear ArizonaRepublicthe newspaper that denounced the scandal, because Fondomonte only pays for the water used 86 thousand dollars a year. At the market price he should pay $3.5-3.9 million.

The purchases of these “foreign” lands for the two companies began about ten years ago. In 2012, Fondomonte acquired 20 thousand hectares in Argentina. Two years later, purchases began in Arizona with 5,000 hectares for $47 million. Then in 2016 they bought another 900 hectares a blytheCalifornia, just offshore of the colorado river, for 32 million dollars. And so on. According to the US Department of Agriculture United States the hectares in the hands of the Saudi company in 2020 had already become 80 thousand.

Riyadh she is clear about her intentions. Arab Newsthe Crown Prince’s favorite news outlet Mohammed bin Salmanwrote that these purchases “are part of ongoing efforts to improve and ensure the supply of the highest quality alfalfa from outside the kingdom to support thedairy business. And it is also in line with the Saudi government’s direction towards conserving its national resources,” the newspaper wrote in March 2014.

Meanwhile, according to the USDA, also the Emirates through their company Al Dahra have made purchases: they currently own 40,000 hectares between Arizona and California planted with alfalfa, garlic and onion, according to the company’s website. The ability of these wealthy Gulf nations to capitalize on overseas natural resources has created a serious boon for their own agricultural sectors. Saudi production in 2021 was 19 billion dollars, the highest in the last five years. And in the UAE by 12% from 2019 to 2020, to reach almost 4 billion dollars. Also taking into account that their agricultural growth in other countries does not involve any environmental cost. “The production region bears the costs of the environmental impact and the consumer on the other side of the world does not perceive it,” he explains Paul D’Odoricoprofessor of eco-hydrology and water resources at the Berkeley University.

Growing and producing crops using another state’s natural resources can be quite profitable. But the export of “virtual water” has a huge environmental impact on local communities. “Such a disproportionate amount of the water resources used by humans now goes to alfalfa. And all in all it’s a relatively low value crop. It doesn’t create many jobs,” he says Alida Cantorprofessor at Portland State University. American researchers are convinced that the two Arab companies are pumping water at such a speed that it cannot be replenished with rain. The overexploitation of these aquifers has caused outrage in recent years, with headlines saying Saudi Arabia is looting all of Arizona’s water and threatening its water supply. They were recently introduced federal regulations but only to limit residential water use in the region, even though 80 percent of that from the Colorado River Basin is used for agriculture. The community of La Paz does not give up, the battle continues but in the meantime the farms owned by the Gulf Arab are able to continue to use as much water table as they want, without restrictions.

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Dry taps in Arizona, but the water is used to irrigate the fields of Saudis and Emirates: they grow alfalfa for their cattle – Il Fatto Quotidiano

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