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Organic Consumers Association

How Peru's Wells are Being Sucked Dry by British Love of Asparagus

Asparagus grown in Peru and sold in the UK is commonly held up as a symbol of unacceptable food miles, but a report has raised an even more urgent problem: its water footprint.

The study, by the development charity Progressio, has found that industrial production of asparagus in Peru's Ica valley is depleting the area's water resources so fast that smaller farmers and local families are finding wells running dry. Water to the main city in the valley is also under threat, it says. It warns that the export of the luxury vegetable, much of it to British supermarkets, is unsustainable in its current form.

The Ica Valley is a desert area in the Andes and one of the driest places on earth. The asparagus beds developed in the last decade require constant irrigation, with the result that the local water table has plummeted since 2002 when extraction overtook replenishment. In some places it has fallen by eight metres each year, one of the fastest rates of aquifer fepletion in the world.

The UK is the world's sixth largest importer of "virtual water", that is water needed to produce the goods it buys from other countries, according to WWF. Much of the UK's thirst is directly related to the boom in high-value food imports in recent years. The market in fresh asparagus is typical; it barely existed before the end of the 1990s. Now the UK is the third largest importer of fresh Peruvian asparagus, consuming 6.5 million kilos a year.

Peru meanwhile has become the largest exporter of asparagus in the world, earning more than $450m a year from the trade. Around 95% of that asparagus comes from the Ica valley. 


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