Water and Agriculture

Sustainability, Markets and Policies

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Agriculture is a major user of water and is responsible for much of its pollution. But the agricultural sector faces increasing competition for scarce water supplies from urban and industrial users and, increasingly, to sustain ecosystems.  This conference proceedings explores how both governments and the private sector can expand the role of markets to allocate water used by all sectors and to get agricultural producers to account for the pollution that their sector generates.



The Spanish National Irrigation Plan

The climatic conditions in the major part of the Spanish territory belong to the Mediterranean type. That means medium to high temperatures with warm and extended summer seasons in the eastern and southern regions, while in the inland, for instance in the Central “Meseta”, differences between winter and summer temperatures are wider than in coastal regions. For that reason, it can be found a wide range of types of irrigation systems, conditioned by factors like their geographical situation in the national territory: not only different crops, yields and watering methods but diverse structural, economic and social aspects. Nevertheless, the common characteristic of these regions is an uncertain and low rainfall regime added to frequent and long periods of drought. Historically, in a great part of rural zones irrigation has played a critical role for rural population to avoid poverty and sometimes starvation. Today, there are still in Spain a great number of rural zones in which no other options for development are significant except irrigation-based agriculture. The disappearance of agriculture in these rural zones will imply depopulation and the abandonment of the land with negative environmental impacts and a great imbalance in the population territorial distribution. But in many cases, this type of agriculture has negative environmental impacts too: very low efficiency of water use, due to old distribution networks and flooding irrigation methods; over-exploited aquifers and diffuse pollution. During the last decades, agriculture in many countries has to face challenges such as: decreasing subsidies, compliance with an environmental legislation more and more restrictive, severe restrictions to the use of water and, at the same time, the need for farmers to produce competitive goods in a global market. The implementation of the new water policy approaches and measures, e.g. water pricing, must take into account all these circumstances and its consequences to the future of the agriculture in many rural zones of Spain. The Spanish National Irrigation Plan (PNR) aims to help the irrigation-based agriculture to face all these challenges, developing five programmes and building a new financing system tailored to the different irrigation systems and reinforcing the relationship between administrations and stakeholders, mainly the irrigating farmers’ communities.


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