Agricultural Production Trends and the Future Of the Trans-boundary Río Grande/Río Bravo Basin

May 20, 2004 // 9:00pm5:00pm

On May 20-21, Environmental Defense and the Woodrow Wilson Center's Mexico Institute organized a conference on "Agricultural Production Trends and the Future Of the Trans-boundary Río Grande/Río Bravo Basin" in San Antonio, Texas. The conference brought together key practitioners and researchers from Mexico and the United States to discuss the way that future agricultural trends are likely to impact water use in the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo Basin and to propose alternative strategies to address water conservation.

Panelists predicted an increase in sugar production on the U.S. side of the border, buoyed by continued federal price supports; pecan production on both sides of the border given its profitability; and increased dairy production in Mexico, with a consequent rise in the planting of alfalfa. All three crops (sugar, pecans, and alfalfa) are very water-intensive under prevailing farming techniques. The lack of a market-price for water, which is highly subsidized in both countries undermines incentives for water conservation. Trade disputes between the two countries (and the continuation of quotas and de facto tariffs) have kept producers from shifting to crops for which they have a comparative advantage, and price subsidies further distort the farming decisions of producers.

Participants agreed on the need for further research to determine the way these factors help condition crop choices; the possible effects of substituting subsidies with conservation payments; and the possible impacts of introducing market-based water schemes. Moreover, participants agreed on the need to develop more collaborative binational approaches to governance of the shared river basin and to promote binational fora for information sharing, training, and research.


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