My road to the Valley of Death

They call it the “Valley of Death” (anonymous farmer, 2016).

There is a place in the world where the inhabitants think they are living in the “Valley of Death”, that is what farmers told me during my last visit to the Yaqui Valley in arid Northwest Mexico.

Even though temperature reaches up to 50 °C and water is scarce and highly competed among industry, agriculture, and domestic use, this valley produces some of the highest yields of wheat in the world. Each kilogram of this water intensive crop requires an average of 1, 200 liters of water for its production.

I study the adaptation to climate change and the process of decision-making to use and govern natural resources, in a more specific way; I focus on one of the most important natural resource of the Yaqui Valley, water. The Yaqui River has sustained agricultural activity for more than three centuries. One of my main interests is the decisions and strategies that farmers implement on the use of water for food production in a context of climate change and other challenges triggered by globalization.

The two transformative processes, climate change and globalization, are studied together under the double exposures framework (DEF). Global change processes are

continuously producing large-scale transformations, endangering people and nature across the planet.

The Valley of Death and the Green Revolution

One of the most interesting aspects of the Yaqui Valley is that it was the nest of the Green Revolution (GR). The GR refers to the adoption of new technologies, such as high-yield varieties of cereals, the use of agro-chemicals, mechanization, and controlled water supply, which transformed agriculture worldwide since the 1960s.

The GR has had both positive and negative impacts worldwide. Even though it helped to address food security to feed a growing population, there were also several issues that emerged from it. Matters of social justice, unequal distribution of resources and negative environmental effects triggered by the use of agrochemicals and the global spread of monoculture, just to name a few. The effect that policies and agrochemicals have on human health, as well as on the environment, is one of the main reasons why farmers identify the Yaqui Valley as the Valley of Death.

However, crisis is also an opportunity to learn and construct alternatives. The interaction between a strong, robust agribusiness, and grass-roots movements, where the community, and leadership play an important role to enhance local development and polycentric governance, make the Yaqui Valley a great place to study these topics..

The Greater the diversity, the lower the risk

A holistic view is necessary when dealing with water issues. You have to act fast, because decisions are taken very fast.

Vandana Shiva, 2015

As a bachelor in Finances, one of the first lessons I learned was that diversification reduces the exposure to risk. This can be extrapolated to the decision-making for natural resources. That is why I have been conducting research in the Yaqui Valley. The goal is to learn more about the multiple forms of farming and stakeholders involved with the use of water for food production.

One of the first steps was to learn and collect information about the diversity of world views and ways of managing natural resources in the region; indigenous communities, government officials, private water managers, and farmers. The pictures below show some of the great diversity that bring life and hope to this “valley of death”.

Global change is increasingly challenging social and ecological systems, especially resource-dependent sectors, such as agriculture. From the total water in our planet, only 2.5% is freshwater, and this percentage is reduced to 0.3% for freshwater available for human consumption. This small percentage of available water is at direct and immediate risk, from which 70% to 80% goes to agriculture. The direct and immediate risk of available fresh water requires complementary forms of water management and water governance to confront the challenges of water scarcity in the arid regions around the world. This way we can reach more a sustainable use of natural resources.

                                                                                                           Yulia Peralta