Political Geographer Tackles Desert Geopolitics

April 4, 2020
Natalie Koch

By Rohini Thakkar

On March 4, 2020, Dr. Natalie Koch presented “Asian Entanglements in Arid Lands: Arizona, Arabia, and Desert Geopolitics” at the Duke Center for International and Global Studies. Natalie Koch is Associate Professor of Geography and O'Hanley Faculty Scholar at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

In 2014, the largest dairy company in the Middle East, Almarai, purchased a farm near Vicksburg, Arizona. In a fascinating discussion investigating large alfalfa farms owned by a Saudi diary company in arid Arizona, Dr Koch explores the issues through the lens of environmental history, STS and geography, offering an approach to “desert geopolitics” that shows how current ties linking Arizona, the Arabian Peninsula and Asia are more broadly rooted in geographic imaginaries that spectacularize desert farming projects.

Video from the Presentation, "Asian Entanglements in Arid Lands: Arizona, Arabia, and Desert Geopolitics"                                                                       

It is a remarkable story that stretches back decades to American cooperation and involvement in Saudi Arabia in the guise of helping develop its agricultural industry, but really only benefiting a select elite few. Dr Koch draws parallels between the recent characterization of Saudi investments in Arizona as “land grabbing” and the earlier  colonization of Arizona by enticing white settlers to grow a variety of crops. “Arizona is the not the victim here” and “when talking about land and water and food connections, the securitization narrative pushes us away from the history of entanglement”.

This presentation was sponsored by the Duke Center for International and Global Studies, the John Hope Franklin Center and the Global Asia Initiative as part of the Wednesdays at the Center speaker series.