Spain: Agriculture drought losses to reach 10 billion
The drought in Spain is "the most severe in the last fifteen years", with 32.6% of the country in a situation of "prolonged drought", due to high temperatures and lack of rainfall. Estimates suggest that losses in the agricultural sector will be close to 10 billion euros.
According to the Ministry for the Ecological Transition’s report, as of the beginning of August 2022, the volume of water in the Spanish hydrographic reserve is 39.9%, almost 10% less than the previous year: "the reality is undeniable, we are running out of water", Hugo Morán, Secretary of State for Environment stated.
EU funds for water management
Mr Morán said that forecasts for the coming years indicate that Spain will reduce its water resources by 25-40%, which "makes it necessary to take planning decisions differently" and reduce demand. In this sense, he pointed out that the 3 billion euros of NGEU funds that will be allocated to the digitalization of the water sector will be one of the "most important measures" to achieve a "robust" water system. At the same time, he warned citizens that "they will have to pay a real price for the water that is consumed" so that they are "aware" of the value and price of the resource.
Likewise, the Secretary of State considered it a "major mistake" to rise expectations about water volumes for irrigation. They are "doomed to failure" because they are built on "false hypotheses”.
The risk of water stress
WWF España estimates that Spain will be one of the countries on the European continent most at risk from water stress. "What should shock everyone is that governments, public administrations and companies continue to turn a blind eye to these risks and base their planning on increased water use", Teresa Gil says.
“Despite the fact that 75% of the national territory is at risk of desertification, Spain has opted for prioritizing water use for intensive irrigation crops, which consume 80% of the water". It is a "suicidal" water management that also shows the failure of the modernization of irrigation systems initiated in 2005, Mrs. Gil adds. “We need another production model that stops investing in intensification and new irrigated areas and supports rainfed crops as a more sustainable option”
“Irrigation is not to blame”
With some municipalities across Spain already starting water restrictions, the president of the umbrella organization for agricultural irrigation (Fenacore) has made a statement defending his sector. Mr. Andrés del Campo condemned that "the demonization of irrigation" aims to find someone to blame for the drought in order to "evade the responsibility of the public administrations". He stated that "no place in Spain is suffering water restrictions because of irrigated crops", as the legislation clearly establishes the priority of use always for urban supply.
Mr del Campo said that the campaign to discredit irrigation in the eyes of the public was a serious threat to the survival of a sector which is crucial for food production. In his opinion, the criminalization of irrigation in this context marked by droughts will aggravate the food crisis.
Lack of investment
The organization calls for a case-by-case study of the causes of the drought: lack of rainfall, the effects of climate change, the growth of all water demands, low efficiency in water use, increased ecological flows in rivers and reservoirs, reduced surface runoff due to the abandonment of rain-fed crops.
But, above all, irrigators’ organization does not understand why more reservoirs are not being built, as they cover 80% of Spain's water demand and are the main and best solution to the water problem.
Fenacore has insisted that the lack of investment in water infrastructure of general interest will worsen the threat that droughts pose to the country.
Agricultural irrigation as strategic sector
According to data from the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Spain is the leading exporter of fruit and vegetables in the EU and one of the top three exporters worldwide, together with China and the US. The main exported produce need adequate irrigation for their correct growth. Spain has 3.8 million hectares of irrigated land, i.e. 18% of the utilized agricultural area.
With this in mind, the country needs to ensure the sustainability of a sector which is vital for economic and social development, while at the same time seeking solutions that use the least amount of water as efficiently as possible. "The modernization of irrigation systems should lead to a more efficient and sustainable use of irrigation water," says consultant Ignasi Servià. He adds that "measures must also be implemented to help water governance". Irrigation is not only necessary to supply the population with food, but as the expert points out, "irrigated agriculture should be considered strategic", as it also serves to “reduce depopulation of rural areas, maintain the economy of these areas and is an essential factor in controlling forest fires”.
Spanish farmers' losses
The different farmers' organizations indicate that the losses caused by the lack of water and high temperatures will be close to 8-10 billion euros. One of the most affected sub-sectors is the olive grove. Olive oil production is expected to fall by 33% during the next season, which starts in October.
The harvest of winter cereals has been reduced this year by more than 30% compared to the previous year. The grape harvest in the vineyards has been brought forward by more than two weeks in many of the production areas and the drop in production will be 25-30%. In addition, there are the consequences for the almost 4 million hectares of irrigated land.
Extensive livestock farming deserves special mention. First, during the last few months, farms have had to face increased costs as a result of the lack of pasture and fodder due to the lack of rainfall. Prior to this, they suffered from an increase in the price of cereals and feed, which has also had an important impact on pigs and poultry.
What can we do?
Although there is no unanimity regarding the construction of new hydraulic infrastructures (reservoirs) as requested by the irrigators, it is possible to find the support from all parties in terms of other solutions: non-conventional water sources, the modernization of irrigation and hydrological planning.
To be continued….
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