Ir Arriba

Water desalination for agricultural irrigation: an opportunity to overcome the drought in Chile

Cultivo de palta en Quillota, Valparaíso, de la productora familiar Maritza Leiva, quien busca alternativas para seguir produciendo pese a la escasez de agua por las sequías.
Avocado farming in Quillota, Valparaiso, by family farmer Maritza Leiva, who hopes to learn about different ways to continue producing despite water shortages due to droughts.

San Jose, 8 September 2020 (IICA). Desalination and water reuse for multiple purposes, including agriculture, is emerging as a powerful alternative to overcome challenges associated with new water sources for agriculture and their sustainability moving forward, particularly in areas with limited water availability at present and in the future.

Over the past 12 years, the Valparaíso region of Chile has been affected by a persistent drought. As at July 2020, the region had a rainfall deficit of 28%, and outlooks are even more grim: this percentage is expected to rise to 35% by the end of this year. Valparaíso accounts for more than half of the country’s national production of avocado, according to the most recent agricultural census carried out by the Ministry of Agriculture (MINAGRI) of Chile.

Fernando Santa Cruz has more than 40 years of experience producing this fruit in the town of La Cruz, the “avocado capital” of Chile. Fernando has grown from a small- to a medium-sized producer, and now exports the Hass avocado variety to Europe.

“We got used to having water. Initially, we relied on wells and other technologies to grow. However, the drought has forced us to consider other options, to find ways to sustainably manage the basin. This year, we had a decently sized harvest because of how little rainfall there was, but we must think about the future”, he stated.

Fernando recalled the difficult years farmers have faced because of the droughts; despite these conditions, however, the farming area has continued to expand. The need for water and a rising global demand for avocado call for more long-term visions and technologies that would allow for increasing the availability of water resources for agriculture. One such option is seawater desalination.

The region is facing these challenges in various ways, undertaking efforts to standardize water rights, technical irrigation and plant health management.

The La Cruz branch of the Agricultural Research Institute (INIA), which is responsible for innovation at MINAGRI, has been studying this issue and gathering information on experiences both in Chile and abroad. “Our goal is to draw on our own capabilities to collaborate, providing scientific and technical information to ensure that this is a viable option to support food production in the future”, explained Regional Director Patricio Fuenzalida.

Within this framework, the INIA and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), an international partner with concrete experiences in the comprehensive development of watersheds in Paraguay and Brazil, will hold a seminar on September 10 to discuss this issue from the perspective of water security. The seminar will also highlight specific opportunities available, based on experiences with family farming within a framework characterized by greater sustainability.

“Water security in both Chile and the Americas is a challenge that must be addressed with comprehensive solutions. The Fresh Water Program (PAD), developed in Brazil by the Ministry of the Environment (MMA) with support from IICA, has benefited more than 200,000 people through the installation of desalination units in remote rural communities in semi-arid regions. This is an experience that can be scaled up and replicated in similar areas across the Americas”, remarked Hernan Chiriboga, IICA Representative in Chile.

The seminar “Desalination for agricultural irrigation: Experiences in and Outlooks for Chile and the Americas” will include the following presentations, which will focus on promoting desalination as a viable alternative for improving water security in Latin America:

“Outlooks for Desalination in Chile’s Agriculture Sector”, by Patricio Fuenzalida, M.Sc. in Forest Engineering, Director of INIA LA Cruz.

“Water Demand and Quality for Agriculture”, by Francisco Meza A., M.Sc. in Agricultural Engineering, INIA.

“Desalination and Water Reuse: Two Feasible Alternatives for Agriculture in Latin America”, by Ivo Radic, Representative of Chile in the Latin American Association for Water Desalination and Reuse (ALADyR), Director of VIGA Flow S.A.

“Experiences of the Freshwater Program in Brazil. Reverse Osmosis Desalination Units: A Low-Cost Alternative”, by Gertjan B. Beekman, Dr. in Civil Engineering; and Dr. Romelia Souza, of the IICA Delegation in Brazil.

The seminar is geared towards producers in the Valparaiso region, Spanish-speaking extension workers and water resource specialists, as well as decisionmakers and family farmers in particular. Maritza Leiva, a family farmer in Quillota, has been invited to the event and is looking forward to hearing about international experiences in this area and learning about the technical, logistical and economic feasibility of these programs, which have already been successfully implemented in other countries with a high level of participation.

“I think it is very interesting to be able to learn about these topics, given that the lack of rainfall is a reality and we must all go one step further, even though many of us do not depend on the canal. Fortunately, we have been able to achieve progress in technical irrigation, in producing clonal Hass avocado and gradually renewing our practices over the past 12 years through our work and efforts. I hope to continue learning with IICA, in order to continue producing healthy food for a long time”, stated Leiva.

To participate in the seminar on 10 September, register at the follow link:

More information:
IICA Delegation in Chile.