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Policy Options for Reducing Water for Agriculture in Saudi Arabia

Key Points:

Saudi Arabia relies almost exclusively on aquifers and desalination to provide its water. Roughly 87 percent of these water extractions are used for agriculture, and so any policy to improve the sustainability of water resources cannot ignore this agriculture dimension.
  • Our study identified a range of scenarios in which water intensive, low-value-added crops were substituted with water productive, high-value-added crops.
  • A 47 percent reduction in agricultural water consumption could be achieved without compromising food security or aggregate farmer revenues. Notably, this scenario minimizes social and political disruption.
  • In the most extreme case, water for agriculture could be reduced by 70 percent – the highest water savings identified among the 28 scenarios – but at the expense of losing sectors including dairy, fodder and grains.
Reductions in water use for agriculture are more likely to be acceptable when harmonized with broader social objectives and this study shows that this can be done. It lays out the different options available and offers suggestions for how to maximize water reductions at the lowest social cost.

About the Project
This project explores how crop substitution can reduce aggregate water use without compromising food security or farmer revenues in Saudi Arabia. The potential effects of crop substitution on total water use, total energy used to meet water demand, and the diversity of crops produced are examined. Additionally, a political bargaining model that estimates the balance of influence of actors affected by crop substitution is developed. The project is part of a larger body of KAPSARC research on the water-energy-food nexus

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