April 30, 2006

Exporting green and leafy water Agricultural exports, including fresh fruit and vegetables, are an important source of income for many developing countries, but also threaten the future of those same producers. "Irrigated agriculture accounts for 70% of the freshwater used globally", while only a part returns to the environment. It isn't just in Africa; in India and in North America, all over the globe, water supplies are being stretched to the point of near breaking.

The Independent's article today was labelled "ethical shopping", and I'll admit that my first response was "Oh dear, I really shouldn't be buying imported vegetables if this is the case." of course, the next second I realised that would be a really bad idea - these are exports that are essential to economy of these countries, and my not purchasing vegetables from overseas would just mean they had less money. But is there something that can be done? Or is permanent environmental damage just inevitable? Is the trade of water possible? Maybe Britain could ship some of it's infamous rain to Kenya, in exchange for some green peppers and tomatoes - except that even Britain is running short on water these days. There has to be some kind of answer which can balance the current needs of people with protecting our future as well, but I can't think of any.

  • A terrible situation. But a wild coincidence.
  • Phred, it's perfectly fine to do the same FPP for both sites. We've (Monkeyfilter, that is) gone over this issue a few times in the past. It is terrible, and it's definitely a global problem - many countries, both developed and developing ones , are encountering the water scarcity. I've always hoped that cheap desalination might help (at least for coastal nations), but it doesn't seem to be an affordable alternative for the time being.
  • The 'needs' of people will have to give way, regardless of whatever those may be thought to consist of, jb, unless an effective means of recycling water is rapidly devised/introduced. Otherwise people will perish. Water's a finite resource. And thirst, like hunger, isn't negotiable.
  • Desalinization, anyone? Could we possibly quit watering massive lawns and start zeriscaping? Does Las Vegas really need to have massive golf courses? How about recycling for manufacturing rather than pumping out the clean and dumping out the polluted?
  • > even Britain is running short on water these days. this is an infrastructural problem, as the article makes fairly clear. it's quite shameful and, imo, very much related to the privatization of an industry that by its nature should be in the public sector.
  • roryk - I agree with your ideological point but surely the current water shortage (which we are not yet suffering from here in the Midlands, by the way) has something to do with the almost total lack of rain in Britain this winter?
  • beeswacky, I know what you mean. Thing is, it seems like people in Kenya, and other places, will pay long before people like I do. Someone in the metafilter thread (and yes, I double posted because I wanted to see the discussion in both places) mentioned that export agriculture is a big power player in these places and competiting with local production. But it's also one of the major sources of international money into developing economies (employment, taxes, offsetting trade deficits) - just cutting off that money isn't going to help things. It's a complicated issue. I don't know what I can do as a first world consumer/ concerned human - perhaps it is nothing. The water situation in Britain is a mixture of privatisation, heavy water usuage and low rainfall. Britain's environment is changing - perhaps not as visibly as shrinking Lake Chad, but it is. I live in East Anglia right now - it' been a dry winter.
  • the reason i bring privatization into it is that i don't see any excuse for water shortages in britain. it simply shouldn't happen given the amount of rainfall, even given recent dry periods. with proper investment in infrastructure, these shortages could be avoided.
  • Not to mention the massive amounts of land that have been bought up in Africa for producing cash crops for export instead of food for the locals. The Growing Connection is a UN program that works with the USDA's Foreign Agriculture Service to provide affordable low-water hydroponic setups and tech support for families in developing nations. Oh, yeah - buy local whenever you can. A topic dear to my monkey heart. I'll get off the soapbox now.
  • Plant a garden. Immediate dirt therapy for the stressed and "poppin' fresh" veg-ebles!
  • If water is being irresponsibly and selfishly used by big farms in Kenya, that's surely an issue for the Kenyans to sort out, by introducing proper regulation and pricing. I don't see that Westerners who buy their agricultural products are to blame. As a matter of fact, the West does its best to stop agricultural exports from Africa through levies and subsidies for its own farmers. If I were an African farmer I'm afraid I think I'd tell the USDA to keep its advice and just give me fair access to its markets. But now we Westerners have another excuse - we're worried that you might be using your water irresponsibly. OK, the soapbox is free again.
  • That particular soapbox is big enough for both of us, Pleg!
  • *steps up* a piece on the recently cancelled water privatization in tanzania. this is the project for which u.k. taxpayers sponsored a pop song with the immortal lines: Young plants need rain, businesses need investment. Our old industries are like dry crops and privatisation brings the rain. bbc on the cancellation. the company's response? they're suing one of the world's poorest countries... *steps down. brushes soap flakes off.*
  • Just finished a 5K race today, and at the end they handed us bottles of this. Water. From Fiji. I handed a bottle to my friend. Her immediate question was "How the hell is it even remotely economically feasible to export water from Fiji to here?" "Here" being Michigan - we got water here. Surrounded by three of the largest freshwater lakes in the freaking world, and they bring us water from a tiny south-seas island. (Unless they're shipping it as ballast in otherwise empty container ships, how the hell do they make money on it?)
  • The UN did a research on how much water it would take in order to give everyone in the world the right amount of water for a year...and then TIME compared it to the amount of water used to water golf courses over the world. Which was greater? The golf courses, by several billion gallons. Anyhow, I beleive that humans only have so much time to screw themselves over, and it's a race between whether the water or gas will run out first. We've fucked the planet over, and it's hitting back. We kinda deserve it.
  • It would take some kind of genius to run out of water completely on a planet as wet as this. I mean, two thirds of the surface is covered in it, miles deep in places. There are huge back-up stores of solid water at both poles, and if that wasn't enough, it falls from the sky and soaks most of the land. I mean, come on! As for the south-east UK, it seems only five minutes ago we were being denounced for having stupidly built all our houses on 'flood plains', destined to be under several feet of water every year. Now we're told we're one of the most arid regions in the world. I was talking to a member of the board of one of the water companies a couple of weeks ago, and they complained about how hundreds of people were writing to them every day saying "Build an effing pipeline, you morons!" - but that would be very expensive! And the water would have to be pumped! Perhaps it's a false impression, but the water companies appear to have no plans at all other than urging people to stop using water. When there was a problem up North a few years ago, they actually started telling people to relocate their businesses and move out, on the grounds that Yorkshire was basically uninhabitably dry.
  • But the important thing isn't water so much as it is fresh water, and drinkable fresh water at that. Also, I'm no meterologist, but I believe that changing water levels can ultimately effect rainfall and thus future water levels. That would make water, at least on a local if not global level, not necessarily an unlimited resource.