For years Saudi Arabia has been allowed to suck the Southwestern United States dry of one of its most precious resources for free. Thousands of acres of Arizona desert have been leased to Fondomonte, a Saudi company pumping hundreds of thousands of gallons of water to grow alfalfa – while the region experiences a drought.
Seven years ago, Arizona’s State Land Department began leasing acreage to Fondomonte for the minimal cost of $25 an acre – with unlimited water pumping rights.
The 2015 lease in addition allowed Fondomonte to pump unlimited amounts of groundwater at no cost whatever.
How much is Fondomonte pumping? The company refuses to disclose how much water it uses each year, and the State Land Department has never bothered to demand reports. That Fondomonte is growing alfalfa year-round on approximately 3,500 acres can be verified from aerial photos.
According to Maricopa County records, the Central Arizona Project has been selling water at the true value price of $242 per acre-foot, which puts the Saudi company $38 million in the red.
Butler Valley, just west of Phoenix, holds over 6 million acre-feet of groundwater, Arizona Central reported and is nearly 100% controlled by the state. Proceeds from the ownership were intended to be put in a trust to support the public school system.
While Article 10, Section 4 of the Arizona Constitution mandates the “land leases and products of land,” should be appraised at their “true value,” with Fondomonte that hasn’t been the case.
But that’s not all.
In 2017, the Saudi company Almarai, bought nearly 2,000 acres in California’s Palo Verde Valley – just over the Arizona border – to give the dairy farm unlimited access to water needed to grow alfalfa. Using valuable groundwater resources to grow a product used to feed cows in the Middle East.
According to Mother Jones:
“It’s basically exporting water in the form of alfalfa to countries that are water scarce,” said Alida Cantor, an assistant professor at Portland State University in Oregon who researches water management and sustainability. “But it’s exporting it from a region that is also water scarce.”
Almost 30 million acres of U.S. farmland have been bought up by foreign investors, totaling billions, raising concerns about food security in the nation.
“The more control foreign interests have in our food system, the less control we have, obviously,” said Tim Gibbons, a director for the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, an advocacy organization based in Columbia. “I think it’s a national security concern. When foreign entities buy farmland, my assumption is that we’re never going to get that farmland back,” added Gibbons. “They’re going to keep it forever.”
But the Saudis aren’t the only ones in the game. Investigate Midwest reported that in 2013, the Chinese company Shuanghui (now known as the WH Group) purchased over 146,000 acres of U.S. farmland worth half a billion dollars.
As far back as the ’70s, concerns were raised regarding foreign investment in the country’s farmland. In 1978 the Government Accountability Office issued a report in response to a request from the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.
States that viewed foreign investment
as a potential problem generally cited one or more of the following reasons.
–Foreign investors might drive up the price of farmland beyond the reach of local residents.
–Too much foreign investment could eventually enable foreign interests to gain some control of the available farmland, especially prime agricultural lands. They could then gain some control over food production and possibly food prices.
“Too much foreign investment could adversely affect the future of small family farms,” it says.
Fondomonte should have been paying over $5 million dollars a year for their lease. Arizona’s Republican Governor Doug Ducey needs to hold the firm accountable. Or better yet, rescind it altogether. Because, you know – America first.
Read the GAO report here.
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