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Desalination of water for agricultural irrigation: an opportunity due to the drought in Chile

Chile's Institute for Agricultural Research (INIA) and IICA will present international experiences to increase water security and the sustainability of agricultural production in the Andean country.


Water for irrigation.

Faced with the challenges of new sources of water for agriculture and their future sustainability, desalination and reuse of water for multiple purposes, including agriculture, emerges as an alternative to consider and develop, especially in critical areas due to low current water availability. and future.

In Chile, the drought of recent years has implied a 70% decrease in the availability of water for irrigation in the central area of ​​the country, the Valparaíso region has suffered a persistent drought for 12 years, and in July 2020 it had 28% precipitation deficit.

Prospects are even worse than the present: it is expected that by the end of the year that percentage will rise to 35%, precisely in the area that concentrates more than half of the country's national avocado production, according to the data. of the last agricultural census carried out by the Ministry of Agriculture (MINAGRI) of Chile.

Fernando Santa Cruz has been in the world of avocados for more than 40 years in the town of La Cruz, the capital of this fruit in Chile. As a retail grower, Fernando is now among the medium-sized growers, exporting Hass variety to Europe.

“We got used to having water, later some of us grew with wells, others made more technical, but the drought calls us to think further, in the sustainable management of the basin, this year we had a harvest with good caliber due to the little water that fell, but we must think ahead, "he said.
Fernando also says that as producers they have had very hard years due to droughts and, despite this, the planted area continues to grow. Therefore, the need for water and an increasing global demand for the product demand longer-term visions and technologies that allow increasing the availability of water resources for agriculture. One of them is the desalination of seawater.

In the region they are facing these challenges in various ways, among them with the attempt to regularize water rights, technical irrigation and phytosanitary management.

The service in charge of MINAGRI's innovation, the Agricultural Research Institute (INIA), a subsidiary of La Cruz, has been studying the issue, generating a strategy for rapid action in the face of lack of water and gathering existing experiences both in Chile and outside the country , "In order to collaborate from our own competencies, providing scientific-technical background that allows generating a scenario that makes this option feasible to support future food production", comments Regional Director Patricio Fuenzalida.

In this context, INIA and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), an international ally with concrete experiences in the integral development of hydrological basins in Paraguay and Brazil, will carry out on September 10 a seminar that will address this issue from the perspective of of water security. The seminar will also address the specific opportunities that arise from experiences with family farming in a more sustainable framework.

“The water security of both Chile and America is a challenge that must consider comprehensive solutions. Thus, the Fresh Water Program (PAD), developed in Brazil by the Ministry of the Environment (MMA) with the participation of IICA, serves more than 200 thousand people by installing desalination units in remote rural communities, in the semi-arid sector, a scalable experience to similar areas of America, ”said Hernán Chiriboga, IICA Representative in Chile.

The seminar “Desalination as a source for agricultural irrigation. Experiences and Perspectives in Chile and America ”will share the following topics, pointing to desalination as an alternative for water security in Latin America:

"Desalination Prospects for Agriculture in Chile", by Patricio Fuenzalida, Ms. Forestry Engineer. Director INIA LA Cruz.

"Demand and quality of water for agriculture", by Francisco Meza A. Msc. Agronomist Engineer. INIA.

“Desalination and water reuse, two feasible alternatives for agriculture in Latin America” by Ivo Radic, Representative for Chile of ALADyR (Latin American Desalination and Reuse Association). Director VIGA Flow S.A.

“The experience of the Fresh Water Program in Brazil. Reverse Osmosis Desalination Units, A Low Cost Alternative ”, Gertjan B. Beekman's International Talk. Dr. Civil Engineer and Dra. Romelia Souza. IICA Brazil.

The seminar is aimed at producers in general from the Valparaíso region, Spanish-speaking extension agents and specialists in water resources, decision makers and especially family farmers, such as Maritza Leiva, producer of family agriculture in Quillota, invited to this event and eager to make contact with international experiences and information on the technical, logistical and economic feasibility of these programs, which have already been implemented in other countries with success and participation.

"I find it very interesting to be able to learn from these issues, since the problem of lack of rain is a reality and we must think further, although many of us do not depend on the canal, since we have been able to advance in technified irrigation, in implementing Clonal Hass avocado and renewing little by little in 12 years of management, work and effort, I hope to continue learning with IICA to continue producing healthy food for a long time ”said Leiva.

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