Via the Guardian comes a few words on the drought and markets for, in this case, almonds. But similar things could be said of other crops. The ‘subsidized’ cost of getting water to these producers is not reflected in prices, nor is the ‘ownership’ of the water looked at in a comprehensive manner for sustainability, as basic as re-charging aquifers.
Californian farmers, estimated to grow around 80% of the world’s almonds, have been accused of siphoning off groundwater at the expense of the state’s future water reserves.
As rivers and lakes have dried up, with more than 80% of the state in the grip of “extreme” or “exceptional” drought, the state’s farmers have resorted to pumping groundwater – underground reserves – to nourish almond trees, vineyards and orchards. David Zetland, economics professor at Leiden University College in the Netherlands, says farmers are pumping water at a rate four to five times greater than can be replenished: “The people of the state of California are more or less destroying themselves in order to give cheap almonds to the world.”
Although California produces even more milk and grapes than almonds, the spotlight has turned on the $4.3bn (£2.65bn) almond crop, following a rapid expansion in planting. Almost a million acres of California’s central valleys have been planted with almond trees – a twofold increase since 1996.
The world’s appetite for the nut – which botanists actually classify as a seed – apparently knows no bounds, with scores of academic studies extolling its ability to lower cholesterol, sate the appetite and improve the skin. In the US, almonds have overtaken peanuts as the country’s favourite snack, while almond milk has overtaken soy, as milk from cows continues to fall out of favour.
“The problem is that California, because of its failed institutions for managing water, is allowing these almonds to come on market at $3-$4 a pound wholesale, when the price would be tripled if California was managing its water sustainably and farmers faced the real cost of water.”