Projecting Future Trade of Virtual Water

In the future, countries without enough water might find a solution in the global agriculture trade.

Crops require water to grow. By importing water-intensive crops, countries essentially bring in a natural resource in the form of virtual water. Agricultural virtual water is the amount of water needed to grow a particular crop in a given region.

Now research led by scientists at PNNL has projected that the volume of virtual water traded globally could triple by the end of the century. Under one set of changes to social and environmental conditions, the Missouri River basin in the United States, the La Plata basin in South America, and the Nile River basin in Africa contributed to virtual water exports. Under those conditions, much of India, Africa, and the Middle East relied heavily on imports of virtual water.

“This analysis helps scientists start to understand what regions could be future global food suppliers or dependent on other countries because they do not have enough water to grow food,” said Neal Graham, a postdoctoral research associate with the Joint Global Change Research Institute at PNNL.

The work, done in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Maryland and the University of Alberta, was published in Nature Communications on July 20.

Following food to track water

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