Political gain should not dictate the fate of investments in agriculture
Investments in agriculture have long been a subject of controversy, as political interests often overshadow the needs of local communities. The case of Saudi Arabia’s investment in Arizona serves as a stark example, where accusations of water theft against a Saudi-owned farm, Fondomonte, have sparked outrage and highlighted the inherent political nature of agriculture.
This article explores the public perception of sustainable agricultural development in Saudi Arabia and emphasizes the importance of informed decision-making. Furthermore, it emphasizes the need for collaboration and responsible policies to ensure agricultural investments contribute to the well-being of both rural and urban communities without sacrificing political integrity.
When analyzing a sample of public opinion on the statement, “If you analyze a sample of wheat, you will find that it consists of 12 percent protein and 88 percent politics,” varying perspectives are revealed. A significant percentage of respondents (47.06 percent) maintained a neutral opinion on the matter, while others strongly agreed (23.76 percent) or agreed (21.72 percent) with the statement. In contrast, a smaller percentage strongly disagreed (2.94 percent) or disagreed (4.52 percent). These findings underscore the divergent opinions and perspectives surrounding this crucial issue within Saudi society.
One particular investment, the acquisition of farmland in Arizona by Saudi dairy company Almarai through its subsidiary Fondomonte, has drawn considerable attention. Almarai purchased 9,834 acres of farmland in Vicksburg, Arizona, in 2014. This investment aimed to secure a high-quality alfalfa hay supply for Almarai’s dairy business and align with the Saudi government’s strategy to conserve local resources. The acquisition cost $47.5 million and involved a mix of freehold, agriculture leasehold and grazing leasehold land. Additionally, Almarai committed to investing in infrastructure to efficiently supply alfalfa hay from the US to Saudi Arabia.
However, water scarcity is a sensitive issue in the Southwestern US and media and political figures have exploited this to accuse Fondomonte of water theft. This case illustrates how agriculture can be manipulated for political gain, furthering hidden agendas. However, it is essential to prioritize public policy and informed decision-making to address the complex challenges faced by the agricultural industry and the communities it affects.
Hasty decisions based on misinformation may lead to the abandonment of Fondomonte and other farms operating under similar leases, thereby jeopardizing thousands of jobs and causing significant damage to Arizona’s agriculture industry.
Visiting Fondomonte reveals significant improvements and contributions made to the area. With advanced irrigation technology and experienced management, Fondomonte has transformed Butler Valley into one of the most efficient and highly productive farms in the Southwest. An economic and fiscal impact report confirms these contributions, supporting thousands of jobs and generating millions of dollars in wages and economic activity. By commissioning such reports, Fondomonte aims to highlight its positive impact and underscore the necessity of considering the long-term implications for both rural and urban areas.
Collaboration and responsible decision-making are imperative in ensuring agriculture investments contribute positively to both rural and urban communities.
Dr. Turki Faisal Al-Rasheed
Balancing agricultural development in rural areas with meeting the needs of urban centers presents a dilemma, particularly when significant financial interests are at play. While leasing land to Fondomonte currently earns the state about $50,000 annually, selling water to a water-thirsty city like Phoenix could generate at least $1.2 million each year. Nevertheless, water transfers are complex and controversial, creating animosity in rural parts of the state. The challenge lies in prioritizing marginalized rural communities while addressing the demands of urban residents.
The decision-making process must be guided by a commitment to sustainable agricultural practices and equitable development. Political gain should not dictate the fate of agriculture investments. Instead, a comprehensive approach is necessary, considering the needs of all stakeholders involved. Thoughtful and well-informed decisions are required to ensure agriculture investments contribute positively to both rural and urban communities, maintaining political integrity throughout the process.
Amid global concerns, including climate change, poverty and public health crises, collaboration and responsible decision-making are paramount. Rather than perpetuating divisions and conflicts, unity and cooperation must be promoted. The challenges we face transcend borders, cultures and ideologies. Sustainable development, equitable wealth distribution and respect for human rights should supplant resource exploitation and destructive practices. Collaboration between nations, relying on diplomacy instead of aggression, can lead to fruitful outcomes. Transparent governance, inclusive decision-making and responsible policies are imperative to address pressing issues and foster a more harmonious world.
While certain events may dominate media attention, it is essential to remember the significance of collective action for the betterment of humanity. By prioritizing collaboration, responsible policies and a shared vision for the future, we can pave the way toward a more prosperous and sustainable world. Unity, empathy and cooperation should be embraced to shape a future that benefits all of humankind. Let us work together to ensure that agriculture investments align with sustainable practices.
- Dr. Turki Faisal Al-Rasheed is an adjunct professor at the University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Department of Biosystems Engineering. He is the author of “Agricultural Development Strategies: The Saudi Experience.”