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Home page > Research Topics > Trade Policy > Agriculture > World Water GAP

World Water GAP, A Global Approach Program

Integrating approaches & prospecting issues

Both sides of the same coin

Water demand will continue to grow due to the expected population increase and the possible income rise in most advanced developing countries. On the other hand, supplying water, the traditional response to water shortage and scarcity, has reached certain limits in an increasing number of countries. Predominantly, in developing countries, new water exploitations are becoming more expensive. Irrigation costs are increasing almost everywhere on the planet and particularly in developing or least developed countries. For instance, since the 1970s, real costs of new irrigation have doubled in India and tripled in Sri Lanka, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

Recent management tools rely on a demand-oriented approach and emphasize on stimulating water users to adopt more efficient water saving behaviors. These tools can clearly be developed by integrating both demand and supply approaches in a renewed sustainable framework of analysis of water policies and practices. Water GAP seeks to promote this view by addressing the following issues:

Water for food

  • Meeting water requirements for food production under increasing population:

The following table is extracted from a list of 110 crop products. All 5 products are food products and amount to more than 50% of global water consumption. The following table shows that the three main contributors to global water consumption are rice, wheat and maize. It does not include livestock’s consumption which contributes even more to the water depletion.

Today, 840 million people are chronically undernourished. Will it be possible to feed an additional 2 billion people and manage water consumption in a sustainable way? It will be an tremendous challenge to supply water for global food production, especially in countries/regions where water is already scarce. In 2030, more than 440 million people will still suffer from hunger. Under a business as usual scenario, in 2025, world production will attain 2.615 million tons of grains and will require about 2.981 km3 of crop water. Somehow, any Malthusian conclusions must be avoided and proper tools and policies need to be designed to address this issue.

  • Shifting diets

FAO foresees that world food production must increase by 60% to feed a growing world population. Most probably, more people will be better fed, implying a major shift in average diets and food consumption patterns as they already are becoming similar throughout the world: more people will eat meat and dairy products, which involve even more water. The case of china is enlightening:

Water for energy

The recent and quite sudden appeal for biofuels production led by Brazil, the United States, and to a lesser extent, Europe will probably result in major water consumption changes. Those changes in water uses and other environmental impacts at large have not been assessed yet. The first of them will be the increase of monoculture and competition over crop for food and energy. Let’s recall that in the table identifying five products that contribute the most to agricultural world water uses, all of them can serve as raw materials for producing biofuels.

Recent biofuels and sub-sequent agricultural policies choices will most probably have significant effect on water resources. For instance, the following calculation, certainly too simplistic, gives us an idea of the situation. One kilogram of dry corn grain may yield 0,374 kg of water-free ethanol (field corn yields must be multiplied by 0.85 to convert the harvested corn to water-free or “dry” corn; i.e. 0,318 lt ethanol per kg of corn). Yet, corn requires from 1000 to 1800 liters of water per kilogram of grain produced (depending on the water productivity of the producer. Consequently, a liter of corn-based ethanol would require approximately 4400 liters of agricultural water added to 190 liters for the transformation process into ethanol, hence 4600 liters. Fuel consumption in high income countries is about 2 to 3 liters a day per capita; if only 10% of this consumption was substituted by corn-based ethanol (i.e., 0.3 lt ethanol) this would be the equivalent to about 1400 lt of additional water consumption per day and capita (i.e., adding 50% to the present use of water in agriculture for our food) Of course, this calculation is a crude shortcut, but it gives a general hint.

For key features and updated information on Biofuels policies, please check also GEM/EBP


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