Water scarcity impacts the fruit growing of the Coquimbo Region

The Sociedad Agrícola del Norte (SAN) delivered a hard report on the water situation in the Coquimbo Region, one that presents the most critical point of water scarcity of the last five decades.

The figures do not lie and these reveal the complex situation that exists in this area of ​​northern Chile. According to the report, prepared by the Surveillance Boards of the Coquimbo Region, the amount of reservoir water reached historic minimum levels, so much so that in December of 2014 there were only 88,67 million m3, which is equivalent to 6,7% of the total capacity.

In turn, of the 120.786 hectares under irrigation in the region, 73 thousand (60%) have ceased to be irrigated due to the severe drought that already extends for the ninth consecutive year, which has dramatically affected small, medium and large farmers, as well as families linked to the rural world.

Of the total hectares under irrigation in the region, 26.518 are located in the Province of Elqui, an area where, in the last season, 10.870 hectares equivalent to 40,99% were left to irrigate.

In the Province of Limarí, the situation is more complex. This is concentrated on the 50% of the total area under irrigation in the region (71.462 hectares) and the 72,64% (51.913 hectares) has already been irrigated, leaving only 19.549 hectares available for cultivation.

"The areas that have stopped watering and drying their crops are the sectors of Cogotí, Huatulame, Punitaqui and Pama, since the water supply for this season is zero," the document details.
On the other hand, in the Choapa Valley, to the south of the region, there were 22.806 hectares under irrigation. Of these, 44,94% has been left to water, leaving only 12.556 hectares under irrigation at present.
With the above, it is concluded that this season productivity in the Elqui Valley would average 55%, while in Limarí it would only reach 20% and in Choapa, it would have an agricultural productivity of 45%.

"The areas that have stopped watering and drying their crops are the sectors of Cogotí, Huatulame, Punitaqui and Pama, since the water supply for this season is zero", Details the document.

On the other hand, in the Choapa Valley, to the south of the region, there were 22.806 hectares under irrigation. Of these, 44,94% has been left to water, leaving only 12.556 hectares under irrigation at present.

With the above, it is concluded that in this season the productivity in the Elqui Valley would reach an average of 55%, while in the Limarí it would only reach the 20% and in the Choapa, it would have an agricultural productivity of 45%.

"The irrigated area has been reduced by 60,46%, which is equivalent to 73.033 hectares less at a regional level, representing a significant decrease in local agricultural productivity. This situation contemplates a minimum historical figure since the agriculture boom in the Coquimbo region, reaching only 47.753 hectares under irrigation, a figure even lower than the 2007 season, year in which the last regional water crisis existed where Cadastral around 70.000 productive hectares under irrigation", Indicates the document.

The report, presented by the president of the SAN and director of Fedefruta, María Inés Figari, during an activity that was attended by regional, municipal, parliamentary and a hundred farmers affected by the lack of water, production and sustenance, He points out that the sector most affected by the drought has been fruit growing.

"Severe pruning has been carried out (leaving 'stump') in avocadoes, while other fruit trees have received risks of survival, and in more extreme cases, complete quarters have been left to dry"Says the report, while in sectors with some type of water security, short-cycle crops were preferred.

Between 2009 and 2013, the region had 120.000 cultivated hectares, with 53.188 planted with fruit trees, mainly for export. This figure corresponds to one sixth of the fruit area of ​​Chile.

Of the total, a little more than 10 thousand were destined to the production of pisco grape, an industry that generates around US $ 250 million. In addition, it had 2.414 hectares of surface planted with grape wine.

Currently there are more than 2 thousand farmers associated in cooperatives pisqueras, one of the emblematic sectors of the region and that has suffered a notable decrease in production, close to 50%.

"This season only 160 reached millions of kilos, considering that normally they produce almost 300 million kilos, affecting more than 2.400 small producers of no more than 5 hectares", Highlights the document.

Looking from the field

Reinaldo Mora is a small producer of table grapes in Monte Patria, Province of Limarí. He started working in sector plots in 1984 and his 70 years had never witnessed such an extreme situation.

He will not have production this year and is indebted, a situation that is repeated with several producers in the area.

"The situation is that I am losing the whole parrón because of the drought. Since last year that I have no water to irrigate, the pure garúa. Here there is no risk to this parrón. I have a leak but it is lost because there is no water", Explained the farmer from the plot El Piñón, in statements collected by the SAN.

"All this was my investment, I planted it with my money. The drip was supported by INDAP"He said.

"I hope the bank can forgive us the debt and the INDAP also ... there are no buyers either, because a plot without water nobody buys it. Not having water the dam nobody wants to buy. We are with our hands tied", He stressed.

If the rains appeared in 2015 it would be difficult for Mora to recover the production of her orchards.

"I would have to try to recover it [the parrón] little by little, as much as possible. Take out new shoots to get it back but not production, because it would have to start all over again and take out for a few more years, because recovering the plant costs a lot as it is"He concluded.

For its part, José Corral, producer in charge of a fruit exporter in the Elqui and Limarí area, and partner of a property dedicated to table grapes, gave a broader picture of what is registered in the region .

"Mainly all the zones that are in Monte Patria, of Tulahuen, of Cañaral Alto, part of Combarbalá, San Marcos, would say everything that is the Huatulame and Cogotí River is very complicated and [the producers] had to abandon the crops and many of they also the farms"He said.

In the case of the Elqui Valley, Corral explained that the river that crosses this valley also "It has been quite expressive".

"Over the last month [December] the river also lowered its levels to a historical level. In many sections [of the river] there was definitely no water", He explained.

"The monitoring boards have indicated that they may only be working today because of the dam they have from the upper basin - La Laguna - and that is the only provision that this valley can have [ELqui]"He said, adding that"we believe that at the end of April that valley will be in the same conditions as Limarí, with minimal water endowments and possibly more drastic".

Corral said that today the water situation is reaching its maximum expression.

"It is a situation of drought that has been dragging seriously in the last five years. In some way we were accustomed in time to have cycles of drought but unfortunately this last cycle has been quite long, therefore today it has been difficult to foresee it and that is the most delicate".

Asked about the most complicated crops, Corral said that this depends on their location within the valley.

"With these transversal valleys we have from east to west. Normally the crops that have been eliminated from our system are mainly those crops with high water demand, for example, avocados".

"Not only have they disappeared because of the drought, but also because of the positioning of the crop to soil, climate and basic yields.".

"I would say that the most affected are the avocados but without a doubt more than the 70% of our production is table grape and pisco grape, and those quite aged crops have also been left to grow".

Corral, who is also vice president of the SAN, emphasized that the most serious thing is that water became a limiting factor in the region.

"Today it is extremely urgent to be able to re-organize all our liabilities and also look to the future. We will need resources to be able to reconvert and in many cases re-incorporate species".

"Today the financial issue is going to be a very important issue to be able to continue the development of fruit growing and agriculture in our region, in an activity where the final productivity and sources of work are put at risk"He said.

Measures to be taken by the sector

It is foreseen that the water resource will maintain its scarce availability during the next months. For this reason, it is essential for the sector to take medium and long-term mitigation measures.

According to the report, some of the short-term measures are the rescheduling of debts, the creation of a special CORFO fund in the event of a catastrophe, the forgiveness of contributions and taxes for farmers, the competition for the Irrigation Law with funds destined for the region, decrease energy costs for water flow, among others.

In the medium term, it is proposed the creation of a water road to move the water resource from the south of the country, analyze the potential sectors of construction of wastewater treatment plants with the aim of recovering them and inserting them into the system and installation of desalination plants in the three provinces to provide drinking water for the population.

"As a union we need financial support that pays labor, so the State must reach out to agriculture as it once did with banking", Commented Figari.

In as much, Daniela Norambuena, Executive Secretary of SAN, emphasized that like entity they have raised a cadastre "and with that we show the figures that are unfortunate".

"4 ago had 120 thousand hectares cultivated in the region and today there are only 53 thousand hectares cultivated. 7 ago there were 59 thousand people employed in the agricultural sector and there is currently 13 thousand jobs less that has generated poverty and migration from the countryside to the city", He explained.

 

Source: Fruit Portal

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