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Water Savings and Virtual Trade in Agriculture

According to Hoekstra, freshwater remains one of the essential resources in modern society (54). However, it is unfortunate that fresh is increasingly becoming scarce in various parts of the world. Sub-Sahara Africa, the Middle East, and multiple parts of Asia and North Africa are now water-inefficient. The problem is caused by several factors, the top of which is the changing climatic conditions. Many parts of the world are not experiencing unpredictable rainfall patterns. Long periods of drought are now becoming very common all over the world.

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When the rain comes, it is always so destructive that it becomes almost impossible to use water reservation practices to store it for future use. Destruction of water catchment areas is another problem that is believed to be another reason why water is becoming scarce in various parts of the world. This is mainly a common problem in developing economies where land is increasingly becoming scarce. As such, human encroachment into water catchment areas has become very common. The result of such activities is that rivers in these regions are drying up. Freshwater lacks are also chocked as they increasingly get limited amounts of rainfall that was the case before. It has become essential to find ways of saving water in both developed and developing countries for agriculture.

The increasing scarcity of water has made it essential to have techniques for saving water. Virtual water trade has come out as one of the best ways of saving water for water-scarce countries. Virtual water trade has particularly become important in the Middle East that is known to be water-scarce. Many countries in the Middle East have rich oil reserves. They rely on the exportation of oil as the primary backbone of their economy. However, the water reserves they have are hardly enough to support agriculture, industrial sector, and domestic use. Bouchery says that several oil-rich countries would be willing to export their water to this region (26). However, it is not a feasible project. As such, virtual water trade becomes the only way of exporting water to water-scarce countries. Indeed, water-scarce countries such as Israel are actively engaged in agricultural activities. However, this is done in a way that does not threaten the water resources of the country. Most of the farming activities can be conducted using either recycled water or limited amounts of water. Other agricultural products that require large amounts of water, such as beef, are imported. The country gets to preserve its limited water reserves for the current and future generations.

Water trade in agriculture is not a practice that is unique to the modern generation. The practice was common long before the emergence of the Egyptian Empire. People cannot survive without food. It is possible to harvest underground water for domestic use. However, the water cannot be used for commercial purposes, especially in agriculture. That is why virtual water trade has become essential in modern society, where rainfall patterns are becoming very unpredictable. Water-rich countries are being relied upon to provide food for the water-poor countries. However, Dinesh warns that virtual water trade should be practiced with caution (112). It should be practiced to enable people to stay in different parts of the world, including the deserts that rarely receive rainfall, without starving.

Dinesh says that sustainability has become one of the major concerns for policymakers (82). It has become apparent to the policymakers that when planning for the current generation, they must also consider the needs of the future generation. One way of ensuring that the future generation is safe is protecting the existing water reserves. As we use our current water reserves, it should be clear that the future generation will also need this resource to survive.

Virtual water trade has become necessary in enabling countries experiencing water scarcity to have agricultural products needed for survival. A study by Bouchery reports that it is the developing nations that are exporting virtual water to the developed nations (43). Flowers from sub-Sahara countries find their way to the European market. However, the truth is that Europe is more water-rich than sub-Sahara Africa. Tea and coffee are other food products being exported from drier parts of the world to Europe and North Africa, where water scarcity is not a major problem. Some of the African nations have destroyed their forests and water catchment areas to engage in agricultural activities. They not only end up exporting their virtual water to other countries but also destroy important sources of water for the current and future generations.

The possible effect of a shift to local food production on global water savings

It is important to promote local food production. Countries should only import food products if they cannot sustainably produce it locally. However, Chellaney says that there are many positive and negative effects on a shift to local food production on global water savings (90). Although the overall effect will be positive, according to Dinesh, it is important to appreciate that there might be some negative effects (61). One such effect may be the destruction of the few water reserves in the water-poor countries. Some of the Arabian countries rely heavily on food products imported from other parts of the world. If they are forced to use the limited amounts of water reserves they have for food production, their agriculture will not be sustainable. It means that their current water reserves may dry up shortly. Global water savings techniques are based on the premise that water use should be sustainable for all. Making it unavailable for a section of people may be illogical.

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Despite the above challenges, Bouchery notes that promoting local food production may positively affect global water-saving initiatives (77). Climate change and global warming are serious issues that affect not only a single country or a single continent. It affects the entire world. As such, global water saving has become an important issue. Shifting to local food production will promote the responsible use of water. Developed countries in Europe and North America, instead of relying on virtual water imports from developing nations, will develop effective techniques of maximizing the use of water and protecting the existing reserves. The developing nations, which have started experiencing water-related problems, will have a lesser burden to provide food products to the developed countries. As such, it will be easy to protect important water catchment areas for the current and future generations. These developing nations can also learn from the developed nations, techniques that can be used to conserve water, and use it responsibly.


Bouchery, Yann. Sustainable Supply Chains: A Research-Based Textbook on Operations and Strategy. Wiley & Sons, 2017.

Chellaney, Brahma. Water, Peace, and War: Confronting the Global Water Crisis. Cengage, 2013.

Dinesh, Kumar. The Water, Energy and Food Security Nexus: Lessons from India for Development. Taylor & Francis Group, 2014.

Hoekstra, Arjen. “Virtual Water Trade: Proceedings of the International Expert Meeting on Virtual Water Trade.” Research Report Series, vol. 2, no. 1, 2003, pp. 13-233.

Schwarz, Jana, Erik Mathijs, and Miet Maertens. “Changing Patterns of Global Agri-Food Trade and the Economic Efficiency of Virtual Water Flows.” Sustainability, vol. 7, no. 2, 2015, pp. 5542-5563.

Turton, Antony. Leaky Exports: A Portrait of the Virtual Water Trade in Canada. The Council of Canadians, 2012.

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StudyCorgi. "Water Savings and Virtual Trade in Agriculture." December 21, 2020.


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StudyCorgi. (2020) 'Water Savings and Virtual Trade in Agriculture'. 21 December.

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