“Making the Desert Bloom”: Unconventional water and reconfiguring agri-social relations in Israel

Authors: Gretchen Sneegas*, Texas A&M University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Food Systems, Water Resources and Hydrology
Keywords: agriculture, water security, Israel, water reuse, political economy
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 38
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


As climate change and population growth increase pressures on urban water availability, affordability, and quality, farmers too must contend with the consequences of water insecurity for agricultural production. “New” or unconventional water produced with such technologies as desalination and water recycling are increasingly considered for augmenting water supply in water insecure regions. This paper examines Israel as a case study where desalination and water reuse technologies are now deeply embedded within the country’s highly inter-connected water and agri-food systems: today, Israel sources almost 40% of its annual water consumption from marine desalination and treats close to 90% of its wastewater, with virtually all of Israel’s treated effluent used for agricultural irrigation. Israel has emerged over the last 15 years as a global leader in the water technology sector, exporting their expertise, systems, and technologies internationally. Drawing from emergent scholarship at the intersection of geography, sustainable transitions, and political economy literatures, this paper considers the intersection of agri-food and unconventional water to ask how radical changes across the Israeli water sector are concurrently reshaping the country’s agricultural landscapes across material and socio-historical domains. I answer this question by tracing the journey of water from the Mediterranean sea to commercial farms in the Negev, theorizing its transformations and translations across geopolitical, biophysical, and scalar boundaries. Illustrated with results from preliminary fieldwork with key Israeli stakeholders and document review, I demonstrate how unconventional water-production technologies are reconfiguring agri-social relations while shaping possible sustainable futures within and beyond Israel.

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