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Pronatura Noreste, A.C.

May 2, 2011

Evaluating agricultural policies in the Conchos River Basin, Chihuahua, Mexico to promote economically sustainable water use.
©Mauricio De la Maza-Benignos Pronatura Noreste, A. C., Loma Grande, 2623, Col. Loma Larga, Monterrey, Nuevo León, 64710, México. Key words: water footprint; cattle ranching; ground water; surface water; sustainable development

The Rio Conchos flows through the Chihuahuan Desert from the forested mountains of the Sierra Madre, through grasslands, desert valleys, and lowlands until it meets the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo (RGRB) at the Mexico-United States border. With an area of 67,000 km2 (14% of the RGRB Basin), the Rio Conchos provides about one-third of the annual flow of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo. Three of the main products of the Rio Conchos basin (RCB) are water-intensive: alfalfa, pecans, and cattle. Regional water availability is already negative. Nonetheless, under these conditions, the RCB farmers have collectively developed a diversified crop portfolio that is economically profitable, creating value and hedging risk. Ninety percent of the 57,499 tons of pecans grown in the basin annually are exported, primarily to the US and Asia, while 70% of the cattle (316,184 tons) are exported as calves to the US. While the alfalfa is traded domestically, 90% (642,104 tons) goes to feed dairy cows in the neighboring state of Coahuila, outside the basin. Virtual water trade balance in the RCB surpasses 3,598.17hm3, and for every unit of virtual water that enters the basin, > 500 virtual water units leave. Calves are exported and processed meat is imported, so the RCB virtual water trade balance is 2,181.67 hm3 – 3.79 hm3 =2,177.89 hm3, meaning that for every unit of virtual water in beef that enters the RCB, 576 virtual water units leave (86.4 blue water and 489.6 green water). In the virtual blue water crop export trade balance vs. the total virtual water imports, the blue virtual water trade balance is 1,750.90 hm3 – 7.15 hm3 = 1,743.75 hm3, meaning that for every unit of virtual water that enters the RCB, > 245 virtual blue water units leave. While pecan contributes the majority of overall produce revenue in the basin, current RCB crop portfolio reflects other economic factors, such as capital and credit availability, commercial risks including price fluctuations, as well as climatic risk including drought and climate change. Other economic factors include ROI associated
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Volume 1: Main Report. UNESCO-IHE. 2 .G. May 2. A. providing the best paid jobs and social security in the RCB. Considering that the secondary and tertiary economic sectors represent the biggest socio-economic drivers. it generates the largest contribution to agricultural revenue in the basin and a gross profit almost identical to pecan production. Water Footprints of Nations. A. as very few viable economic alternatives exist in this vast landscape. Livestock production. Y. It becomes clear from this study that the livestock sector generates an enormous gap between virtual water exports and imports. including opening the possibility for inter-sector water transfers. K. it is misleading to conclude that beef cattle ranching is an unsustainable activity for the RCB. on the other hand. A. 26 p. Y. and requiring considerable land extensions. Value of Water Research Report Series No.16. and the development of a prosperous value adding agro-industry for the region. A. 2011 to phenology of each crop (e. 2005. Regional water footprint (WF) associated to the three commodities is huge for a water stressed region. Because mismanaged groundwater easily changes into a “non-renewable natural resource”. References: Chapagain. H.. and not metering water use need to urgently be eradicated.18. is a capital intensive. as it exports calves “on the hoof” and imports processed meat. 2004. and A. Chapagain. Savenije and R. Gautam. Value of Water Research Report Series No. K. Water Footprints of cotton consumption. Institute for Water Education. low risk and low profit economic activity subject to economies of scale. The Netherlands. 39 p.. policy should focus on their economic growth with equitable and sustainable development. Delft. UNESCO-IHE. Nonetheless. there is no economic reason for mining groundwater beyond ecological threshold. given the mostly green color of the water employed in livestock production coupled with the low opportunity costs inherent to desert rangelands. Pervasive policies and practices such as heavily subsidizing electricity for deep water pumping.C.H.Pronatura Noreste. Delft. However. and water reserved for the environment through the establishment of environmental flows and other available mechanisms. Hoekstra. Volumes 1 & 2: Main Report. The Netherlands. policies that incentivize water efficiency should be implemented and enhanced. Hoekstra. the 7-year wait period required before the first harvest in pecan production).g. Institute for Water Education. Water in the desert is a scarce. By contrast. valuable resource.

Water International 33:19-32. 3 . May 2. 2008. Y. Asesores de Servicios en Ecología Sustentable S. A. G. and A. Hinojosa-S.C. 2011 Chapagain.. K. Hoekstra. Una aproximación al metabolismo hídrico y los flujos de agua virtual en la Cuenca del río Conchos en el norte de México.Pronatura Noreste. 2011. The global component of freshwater demand and supply: an assessment of virtual water flows between nations as a result of trade in agricultural and industrial products.C. A.