Monday 09 April 2012
Water shortage in vineyards
Chile's Copiapo Valley should be a picturesque grape-growing region. Instead, there is mile after mile of rows of withered vines along this stretch of the Atacama Desert.
Not so long ago these vineyards in northern Chile were green, supplied with water from an underground reservoir.
But water is a rarity here, in the driest desert of the world. Not least because agriculture is not the only industry competing for it.
Take a look at the Atacama from an aeroplane window: everywhere you will see the hallmarks of one particular activity, copper mining.
Huge machinery is drilling deep holes, digging and sifting through the orange-red earth and rocks.
Chile is renowned for its copper mines, which produce a third of global output. The country is the world's largest exporter of the red metal.
Its economy depends heavily on copper exports to Europe, the United States and, increasingly, India and China.
In total, copper makes up about 70% of all Chilean exports. Agriculture amounts to just 25%.
And more mines are being established every month.
Two years ago, Copiapo was briefly a the centre of the world's attention, when 33 miners were trapped for 69 days in one of its copper mines. But the mining boom has continued.
Just outside Copiapo town, a whole new mountain has recently appeared - one that is not on the map. It is made entirely from the landfill earth coming out of the mines.
So many people are coming to work in the mines that Copiapo is a permanent construction site. New buildings keep popping up, like mushrooms after an August rain.
But to function, mines need water - the same water used by small growers to irrigate their vineyards.
As Alfonso Prohens lovingly turns over a big, heavy bunch of grapes and removes an odd dry leaf on the vine, he points at the rocky land a few kilometres down the road, toward the mountains.
The vineyard where we stand, with its 130 hectares of several varieties of table grape, used to be as rocky as that 60 years ago, he says.
Source: Argentine Beef Packers S.A.
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