With the global population increasing, the demand for food will continue to boom. And this will put extraordinary strains on the world’s resources, especially water.
In a recent Bank of America Merrill Lynch report titled The Blue Revolution – Global Water, strategist Sarbjit Nahal takes a close look at the water story as it relates to food.
Agriculture – today’s biggest consumer
According to the FAO, it takes 1,000x more water to feed a population via agriculture than it does to satisfy thirst. This is leading to growing demand-side water pressure as food demand is expected to increase by 50% by 2025 to 2030 – meaning another 1,000km3 (1tn m3) of water per year – equal to the annual flow of 20 Niles or 100 Colorado Rivers (Source: InterAction Council). This will significantly exacerbate the imbalance between water demand and supply.
Farmers are extracting water at an unsustainable rate as the area irrigated by groundwater has increased on the back of more reliable water delivery, a decline in extraction costs, and government subsidies for power and pump installation and water itself.
Water intensity varies depending on the crop or livestock. Farming livestock is more water intensive than farming crops. It takes 15,500l of water to produce 1kg of beef, compared with 1,500l for 1kg of grain. However, we expect increasing demand for food to come from higher protein-based sources rather than more subsistence-based diets. Using current practices, the amount of water required for agricultural evapotranspiration to feed the world’s population would increase from 7,130km3 currently to between 12,050km3 and 13,500km3, an increase of 70-90% by 2050.
Here’s a table breaking down how much water it takes to make various types of food.
Photo: Bank of America Merrill Lynch
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