Water: uses and opportunities

By Eduardo Peixoto, CESAR’s Chief Business Officer


I have lived in Switzerland for five years, from 1997 to 2001. At the time, talking with a friend in a bar, between beers and bratwurst, about the natural resources of our countries my attention was drawn for the first time to the water problem. What? Switzerland in 1997? Water? Yes! Although north eastern by birth and upbringing, and having endured several water rationings, I had not yet realized that water is an increasingly precious mineral. And that it will be the object of disputes, even military, in the future. In Switzerland, without having ever endured any scarcity, they, at that point in time, were fully aware of the richness they possessed and needed to preserve…

At that point in time, Brazil was starting to become aware of this future problem. In 1999, in the seminar “Water: the next millennium challenge”, the grounds for launching ANA (the Brazilian National Water Agency) were set.  This Project was approved by the National Congress in 2000. ANA performs  actions of “regulation, support to the management of water resources, monitoring of rivers and reservoirs, planning of water resources as well as developing Programs and Projects and offering a set of information with the aim of stimulating the proper management and the rational and sustainable use of water resources”.

It looked good on paper.  In fact (predictably) what we have nowadays is a full-blown water crisis. The reservoirs of the main cities in the country are reaching their dead volumes with possible consequences for power generation. This is the most evident part of the crisis; lack of water has many consequences for various businesses around the country. What few of us know, however, is that water is the main material for food production. And it is this industry, the agricultural and cattle raising, that is its prime consumer. While we are directly responsible for the consumption of 9% of the drinkable water, agriculture and cattle raising are responsible for 83%. It is 72% for the production of vegetables, grains, fruits and so on and 11% for meat production.

In this scenario, I keep asking myself whether it makes any sense to penalize the population by restricting their access to water… Should we work towards reducing consumption within the 9% or within the 83%?

Any reduction in the consumption of the urban population is not going to reduce global consumption by more than 10%, even if we stopped consuming water altogether. Our discipline and fines for consumption are expected to contribute towards an economy of 1-2%…

We would have more gains (that would also last longer) if we worked with the agriculture and cattle raising businesses, no? Of course the solution is not reducing food production. We are not talking about that. We are talking about the effective use of water. And over there it is easier. We are talking about an industry that has processes and equipment and, in implementing improvements that make water usage more effective, will largely reduce consumption.

Want an alternative? One of my pastimes is to travel, every once in a while, through the Centre-West. There, in an area that has Uberlândia – MG in the centre, and that includes Cristalina-GO, Paracatu-MG and the Northeast of São Paulo, we have the largest concentration of  Central Irrigation Pivots (CIP) in the country. Now, a single pivot consumes, on average, 500 thousand litres of water per hour. This is equivalent to what one person consumes in 3 thousand days. Hence, if we save 10% of the water that passes through this irrigation system, we are in fact saving one year of water consumption per person, without reducing food production. Taking into consideration the fact that there are 20 thousand pivots in the country, we are talking about water for 6 million people…. Every day….

Is this possible? EASY!  The CIP is an electromechanical equipment, programmed and controlled by a pivot-man. The Pivot man rides a motorcycle, and in the best case scenario, passes by each CIP once a day.

The CIP, if turned on between 11h and 15h, loses 40% of its water due to evaporation. If turned on when it is raining, it floods the plantation and wastes 100% of the water… Now, what do you suppose happens in a farm that counts with 20 to 50 CIP and 10×20 square kilometres of area?

Waste! There is a solution. It was developed by CESAR and is called Irrigation Monitor (IM). It is worth looking at the video about the IM and at the testimonial of a farm that is actively using the equipment.

If we all do our share, and the agricultural and cattle raising businesses invest in innovation we will not be in trouble. Better still, we will not be thirsty!

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