Peru's Asparagus Industry Is Sucking Wells Dry

peru asparaus photo

Image credit: Nick Hepworth/Progressio/Water Witness Intl

Whenever I go to my mom's for dinner, there is asparagus. She's 92 and thinks that getting cheap and fresh asparagus year round from Peru is proof that all is well in the world, a gift of globalism and technology. But as Felicity Lawrence notes in the Guardian, it is not such a great gift for anyone.

Firstly, they are running out of water.

The Ica river rises in the mountain region of Huancavelica, Peru's most deprived region, where indigenous communities make a marginal living herding. Diverting water to the asparagus fields has disturbed the fragile balance of water supply and demand on which their survival depends. Plans to increase diversion will make it even harder for them. In the Ica Valley itself, small and medium-scale farmers neighbouring the industrial farms have already found their water supplies drying up and have been forced to sell up.

But it has to be helping the Peruvian farmers, right?

For every dollar spent by a US consumer on imported asparagus from Peru, $0.70 stayed in the US, the industry explained. The money goes not to Peruvian farmers, but to US supermarkets and wholesalers, and to US shippers, distributors, importers, and storage owners. Just $0.30 stays in Peru.

But Peru doesn't even get the full benefit of that $0.30, because a large portion of that amount comes back to the US anyway: it is spent by Peruvian companies (or the Peruvian subsidiaries of multinational producers) on US seed, US materials for processing, US fertilizer and US pesticides.

Nothing I will say will ever separate my mother from her asparagus; she grew up in the depression and thinks it is wonderful. But she is also very cheap; I wonder if it would be on the table if she had to pay the true full price.

More in the Guardian
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