California’s Drought & Farmworkers

Spread the love
  • 1
    Share

Most of us are aware that the drought has affected our livelihood. We can’t use as much water for various activities such as jumping around in the sprinkler, washing cars, or watering plants. The rare rain we had last winter brightened the landscape with a kind of spring-green brilliance that we’d all but forgotten about, which has gone back to being a memory now that the landscape is golden-brown once again.

While those of us who cared were concerned with water conservation and usage, we may also have been worried by the forecasted increase in food prices. Thankfully, this hasn’t happened yet, or at least, only a few fruits and vegetables did go up in price because of drought (citrus went up because of troubles in Florida and a freeze in Southern California a couple years ago). Predictions are of course, that the longer this drought goes, the greater the inevitability of increased prices. But in thinking about food, we give pause and think: how are the farmworkers faring? How has the drought been affecting their own livelihoods and health? After all, it’s no secret that farmworkers generally get the short end of the stick in wages, health care, work dignity, and housing. Has drought changed anything?

Indeed it has.

Here is the list:

  • Loss of revenue
    • Less water means the ability to water large crops goes down, thus decreasing crop size.
  • Changes in crop production and increased idleness of land
    • Some farmers are turning away from some crops in favor of others that may not be so water intensive, this could lead to reduction of products and certain crop availability.
    • Again, large crops are no longer is viable, and less land becomes farmed.
  • Job loss, decreased hours, decreased wages, and/or migrations of workers out of state
    • Job openings decrease and some are lost altogether because of the aforementioned lost revenue and idleness of land.
    • Lost revenue also means a decrease in already-bad pay, and/or decrease in hours.
    • Job loss/poorer wages mean inability to live in the area, and people move away.
  • Increase in infectious diseases, chronic diseases, and vector-borne diseases
    • Less water means pathogen-carrying organisms are more crowded as water is less diluted (becomes more concentrated) and the amount shrinks.
    • This is also made worse by already worsening conditions such as water and air quality.
      • Drought creates fewer sources of freshwater.
      • Drought has also already killed 66 million trees.
        • This means fewer carbon soakers, which increases carbon in the atmosphere thus heating it up even more, which then lead to heat related issues such as heat stroke.
        • Fewer trees also lead to less oxygen and thus a decrease in air quality, creating lung problems for these workers who spend the majority of their day (and probably life) outside.
      • Dry, dusty conditions give rise to fungal infection which causes respiratory problems as well as fever and muscle ache.
  • Loss of respect
    • Already, many people blame farmers and workers for their livelihood of farming, because it naturally uses more water than the average household. They want farmers to sacrifice even more water, but are yet unwilling to pay higher prices for food, sacrifice the availability of foods, contribute to wages, or do the work themselves.
  • Loss of life
    • In a July 1st published issue of CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, they found that farming, fishing and forestry workers had the highest suicide rate at 84.5 per 100,000 workers.

From the report:

Researchers cited a number of possible reasons for higher suicide rates in certain occupational groups, including job-related isolation and demands, stressful work environments, and work-home imbalance, as well as socioeconomic inequities such as lower income, lower education level and lack of access to health services. They also pointed to farmworker exposure to pesticides – as well as long-term exposure to neurotoxic solvents among installation, maintenance and repair workers – as potential factors.”

 

Farmworkers have it pretty hard, which is why it’s so important to work together. We should already know everyone is not going to get what they want (when do we ever?). Therefore by working together and acknowledging people’s needs and concerns, we can think up solutions where everyone gets something, rather than some getting nothing, or worse, losing everything.

Sources:

CDC issues report on worker suicide; farming and construction among industries with highest rates

Impact of the Drought in the San Joaquin Valley of California

USDA California Drought: Farms

USDA California Drought: Food Prices and Consumers

UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences: Food prices and the California drought

The Sacramento Bee: Forest Service: Staggering 66 million dead trees in California