Skip to content

Koch Discusses Arizona’s Water Shortage, the Role of Saudi Agribusiness With Al-Monitor, The World

October 9, 2023

Al-Monitor,The World

Natalie Koch

Natalie Koch

Last week, Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs terminated land leases with a subsidiary of Saudi Arabia's dairy giant Almarai, the latest chapter in a battle over groundwater that could affect how the company and others from the Gulf operate.

Hobbs said in a statement that Fondomonte, a subsidiary of Almarai, has been violating the terms of its lease since 2016 by pumping “unchecked amounts of groundwater out of our state while in clear default on their lease.” Fondomonte grows alfalfa on the land, which is used to feed Almarai’s cows in Saudi Arabia.

Natalie Koch, professor of geography and the environment, tells Al-Monitor that Almarai's alfalfa operation in Arizona follows the kingdom's ban on domestic production of green forage crops like alfalfa that went into effect in 2018. 

“The (Saudi) government is very aware of the unsustainable agriculture practices that lead to a situation where the groundwater is no longer really able to sustain any substantial commercial agriculture,”  says Koch, author of “Arid Empire: The Entangled Fates of Arizona and Arabia" (Verso Books, 2023).

Koch was also interviewed for The World's segment, “Saudi agribusiness thirsty for Arizona's dwindling water.” 

“The bigger challenge with what we see with Katie Hobbs's decision to pull these leases is that in the areas where they are doing this agricultural production in Arizona, groundwater pumping is unregulated. So you can pump as much water as you want if you own or you're leasing that land,” Koch says. 


Communications and Media Relations Office
200 Eggers Hall