UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Growing Crops in Arid, Drought-Prone Environments: Adaptation and Mitigation Sisto, Nicholas P.; Severinov, Sergei; Aboites Manrique, Gilberto


Drought poses significant risks to society, in particular irrigated-crop production, which accounts for a large share of global freshwater use. Given its key role in the production of food, feed and fiber crops, there exists a need for policy measures to prevent and mitigate the impacts of drought on irrigated agriculture. This paper proposes that the design of drought policy should take into account actual farmer behavior in response to water scarcity. To this end, we offer a detailed analysis of land allocation and crop-choice decisions over time in an irrigation district located in the dry plains of Northern Mexico. We find that farmers systematically change their crop mix in response to water availability. In particular, in times of drought, irrigation water flows to higher-yield and higher-price crops (which also require more intense irrigation) to the detriment of less water-demanding (but lower value) crops. Farmers use water with the goal of earning a living—economizing on water per se has no relevance in that context. Policies that do not explicitly recognize this may result in ineffective, inefficient and/or unfair outcomes.

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