Note on… Agriculture and water consumption

September 6, 2010

In a recent article, Arjen Y. Hoekstra, professor in water resources management at the University of Twente (the Netherlands) comments on today’s practices towards water consumption.

Prof. Hoekstra recalls that although many political efforts are made to minimize domestic water consumption, agricultural practices and animal products “are by far the greater danger” for only 5 per cent of our water consumption might be related to domestic water consumption and 10 per cent industrial products.

About 85 per cent of  water consumption by contrast,would therefore be related to agricultural and animal uses. Animal consumption however, might not be related to the amount of drank water, but rather to the quantities needed to grow animals’ food.

This  nuance overall suggests that agriculture – taking both a human and animal perspective – might constitute the greatest stake as far as saving water is concerned. As a matter of fact, this could be related to Brazil’s recent attempt to limit foreign investors ability to acquire local land in order to sell food as commodities on international markets.

As Hoekstra formulates, this means that if people are considering reducing their water footprint, they need to look at their diet rather than at their water use in the kitchen, bathroom or garden. That being said, while Nestlé’s Chairman recently emphasised that investment related land “purchases weren’t about land, but water, for with the land comes the right to withdraw the water linked to it, in most countries essentially a freebie that increasingly could be the most valuable part of the deal” (The Economist, ‘Buying farmland abroad: Outsourcing’s third wave’ available here) this also suggests that agricultural needs and methods might need to be reviewed on a global scale. As Hoekstra concludes, “this situation has to change. Consumer and environmental organisations need to demand more transparency of animal products from business and governments, so that they are better informed about associated water resource uses and impacts.

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