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  • Foodwise Articles

    Are we running out of water?

    Author | Do Something!

    The Stockholm International Water Institute have released some useful facts and figures relating to water use in agriculture.

    When it comes to getting food from the paddock to our plates, these figures show that we are far from being sustainable in our use of water. The potential impact that this will have on the world’s food security is clear to see.

    • Agriculture is the largest consumer of freshwater by far – about 70% of all freshwater withdrawals go to irrigated agriculture.  [1]
    • Today, irrigated agriculture covers 275 million hectares – about 20% of cultivated land – and accounts for 40% of global food production. [1]
    • Part of the current pressure on water resources comes from increasing demands for animal feed. Meat production requires 8-10 times more water than cereal production. [1]
    • Producing 1 kg of meat requires as much water as an average domestic household does over 10 months (50l/person/day). [4]
    • Feeding everyone in 2050 – including the undernourished and additional 3 billion people expected – could require 50 % more water than is needed now. [5]
    • Reducing food wastage by 50% – including post-harvest losses, losses in transport and handling, and losses in the household – might vastly reduce or even negate the need for additional water to grow more food, which will ensure sufficient water is available for food in the future. [4]
    • Based on today’s water productivity and a projected diet of 3000 kcal/day, an additional 5600 km3/year of water needs to be appropriated by 2050 to eradicate undernutrition and feed an additional 3 billion world inhabitants. This is almost three times as much as the present global consumptive water use in irrigation. [3]
    • Globally, irrigation water allocated to biofuel production is estimated at 44 km3, or 2% of all irrigation water. Under current production conditions it takes an average of roughly 2,500 litres of water (about 820 litres of it irrigation water) to produce 1 litre of liquid biofuel (the same amount needed on average to produce food for one person for one day). [1]
    • Irrigation is very important for overall food production by enabling 40% of the production on only 17% of the cropland. [3]
    • Implementing all current national biofuel policies and plans would take 30 million hectares of cropland and 180 km3 of additional irrigation water. [1]
    • As irrigation systems come under pressure to produce more with less water, there is a danger that unequal rights and entitlements will widen inequalities. [2]
    • For some countries, climate change may lead to an increase in food production, as in North America and Europe, where high gains are projected. [3]
    • For the 40 poorest countries, with a total population of some 1–3 billion, climate change may lead them to lose on average up to a fifth of their cereal production potential in the 2080s. [3]
    • As many as 40 % of the Sub-Saharan countries could lose a substantial part of their agricultural production due to climate change. [3]
    • The financial and economic crisis have deepen food insecurity in 2009: 915 million people around the world are undernourished according to FAO. [6]
    For further information on SIWI’s food statistics, visit their web site.

    Information Sources

    [1] 3rd UN World Water Development Report, 2009

    [2] UNDP: Human Development Report, 2006

    [3] SIWI: Let it Reign: The New Water Paradigm for Global Food Security, 2005

    [4] SIWI: Saving Water: From Field to Fork – Curbing Losses and Wastage in the Food Chain, 2008

    [5] Falkenmark, M. and J. Rockström: Balancing Water for Humans and Nature. The New Approach in Ecohydrology, 2004

    [6] FAO: The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2009

    Food Security, Food Security Features ,