Destroying historical irrigation systems is neither modern nor sustainable
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In Spain, agricultural policies have long opted for promoting and subsidizing multi-million euro "modernization" projects that propose the substitution of traditional irrigation systems by others considered more efficient, sustainable and competitive based on pressurized irrigation and drip micro-irrigation. Recently, the Spanish ex Minister of Agriculture announced that the objective of the government is to "modernize" all Spanish irrigation by 2025, at an estimated cost of about 2.5 billion euros. Moreover, Spanish Regional Governments are implementing their own million-dollar rural development projects with the same objectives.
Destroying historical systems of irrigation is neither modern nor sustainable. Modernization projects carried out so far have not only been costly but in many cases have proved to be a failure from the economic and social point of view and have not resulted in savings of water. Rather, crop intensification and the covert extension of irrigation surfaces have led to greater water consumption and have aggravated already existing imbalances. In addition, its implantation has in many cases resulted in an irreparable loss of historical heritage, along with loss of soils, of biodiversity and of ecosystem services.
Our irrigation channels are blue infrastructures, our irrigated areas are green infrastructures. The historical and traditional irrigation communities manage the water and their local ecological knowledge in an integrated way, that is to say they are “knowledge-intensive”, allowing the generation of landscapes of enormous value. Their only energy inputs comes from gravity and the sun and they are therefore enormously efficient. What could be more modern than that?
All these systems are authentic oases, with everything that entails. Many have been in existence for more than a thousand years and are thus proven to be enormously sustainable and resilient. Moreover they have provided useful examples of communal governance and resources management. They generate numerous valuable ecosystem services as they regulate watersheds, recharge aquifers, and generate bio- and agro-diversity. They fertilize the soil and avoid salinisation and erosion. They regulate local temperatures and increase the humidity gradients. They enable the proliferation of pollinators and natural predators. They themselves constitute ecological corridors and artificial wetlands of great value. They are enormously efficient from the energetic point of view and a unique and indispensable part of our tangible and intangible heritage.
So, for us, “being modern” means to know them in depth, in order to improve what we can; to maintain their values through innovation; to improve and dignify the lives of our farmers and irrigators, thinking not only in the short term, but as an essential part of our future as well.
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