January , 2020
Reduce water footprint to ensure sustainability
11:58 am

Ankit Singh

According to the United Nations, about 1.2 billion people around the world are living under water scarcity and another 500 million are approaching that situation. More importantly, approximately 1.5 billion people will face an ‘absolute’ water scarcity by 2025. Due to changing climatic conditions, the availability of water is expected to become a crucial matter. Although water covers around 70% of the world’s surface, around 3% of it is groundwater. In such a scenario, it is hard to visualise a food secure world, especially if the current production and consumption trends persist.

Worldwide, a nutrition transition is taking place in which many people are shifting towards more affluent food consumption patterns containing more animal products. Most areas of the world show economic development that results in increased purchasing power, causing not only demand for more food, but also a change in types of food that is being consumed. In recent decades, demand for animal products, such as meat, milk and eggs has increased due to changes in food consumption patterns. In affluent countries, the protein intake is generally more than that is required, particularly due to the excessive consumption of animal products. If in developing countries, populations continue to increase, especially in combination with economic growth, as is expected in India, the demand for animal products is predicted to increase manifold.

Food takes an important share in the total use of natural resources, especially water. Total agricultural production accounts for 92% of the groundwater footprint of humanity - almost one third of which relates to animal production. In a global study, Mekonnen and Hoekstra showed that animal products have a large water footprint (WF) as compared to crop products. They have a particularly large water requirement per unit of nutritional energy compared to foods of plant origin. For example, the total WF of pork (expressed as litres per kcal) is two times larger than the WF of pulses and four times larger than the WF of grains.

Animals and animal-based products consume water more than fruits. To produce one kilogram of sheep meat, around 10,500 litres of water has to be used, and if you opt for beef, you will need around 15,500 litres of water. On an average, 2500 litres of water is required to produce one kilogram of rice. And water consumption rises with further processing. For instance, to produce one kilogram of chocolate, we have to use more than 17,000 litres of water. However, one kilogram of apple and banana consume around 800 litres of water, whereas just 280 litres of water is needed to produce one kilogram of potato. This water consumption data clearly points to impending conflicts regarding water use and its allocation.

The supply side of freshwater is a function not only of regional rainfall, which can vary greatly within and between years, but also of water management and distribution systems and related to water pollution - which renders freshwater non potable. Unfortunately, global climate change is modifying the supply side of the equation (rainfall patterns).

Dr. S.B. Lal, Pro-Vice Chancellor, SHUATS, Allahabad, told BE, “Water scarcity, a function of supply and demand, is a regional issue with global repercussions. Increasing human population and demand for animal products will increase water demand and influence international trade in agricultural products. It is also affected by global climate change, altering rainfall patterns worldwide.”

Food loss and wastage is also a major problem. Globally, around one-third of all the food produced, equivalent to 1.3 billion tonnes per year, is either lost or wasted. While one-third of the food production is wasted, global hunger has been rising continuously since 2015. Agriculture scientists have been stressing on the need to bring changes in our behaviour to help minimise food loss and wastage. They insist on balancing the animal food consumption with plant food consumption.

According to Lal, “First, recognise the value of food, and think how much scarce resources are used to produce food before eating. Second, value nutrition and food safety rather than just appearance. Third, take only the amount of food that you can eat and need to eat from the nutritional point
of view. Fourth, support local food. Long food chains are inefficient and unsustainable.”


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