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Farmers

Agriculture at any price? Saudi Arabia privileges agriculture to the detriment of its water reserves

Benefiting from its oil revenues, Saudi Arabia has developed irrigated wheat farming on an industrial scale which, although producing good quality wheat, threatens to exhaust the country's water reserves, without going beyond the artificial nature of the project.


In the Arabic peninsula, the repercussions of the incomes of oil after the crisis of 1973 made it possible to make agricultural development a priority. One passed from a food agriculture organized around the oases, with a very moderate exploitation of the ground water, to an industrial agriculture with enormous financial and technological means. The reasons of such a change are multiple but the example of the culture of corn in Saudi Arabia also illustrates the limits of such a development with very worrying ecological consequences. The water being used to irrigate the corn fields comes for 80% from nonrenewable aquifers, whose level drops at intervals of ten meters per annum, single phenomenon in the world. Lastly, the important use of artificial fertilisers has negative consequences on the ground water quality. At the economic level also, everything is not positive. Indeed, the dependence compared to the foreigner increased: the agricultural labour comes from the Asian countries, the ultramodern farms are managed by Anglo-Saxon technicians, the material, the seeds and fertilisers are imported. The Saoudi authorities became aware of these limits and encourages a more rational management of the water and the recycling of waste water. One also starts to limit the corn producer subsidies. But these directives are badly accepted by an agricultural lobby that has became very powerful.
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THE AUTHORS

Angélique KHALED
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