Knowledge for better food systems

Showing results for: Water

While 72 percent of the Earth is covered in water, only 3 percent consists of precious freshwater, and of that, over two-thirds is stored in ice caps and glaciers. Currently, about 1.1 billion people chronically lack access to drinking or irrigation water, and a total of 2.7 billion experience water scarcity for at least one month of the year; this is predicted to increase in the future due to unsustainable extraction of water from aquifers and rivers, and to climate change and the growing importance of other competing uses such as industrial developments and urbanisation. Since industrial times, more than half the world’s wetlands have disappeared. Agricultural production is the major user of water, utilising some 70% of all irrigation water and its use is often highly inefficient. The agri-food sector is also a major source of water pollution, via its use of pesticides and synthetic and organic fertilisers, contributing to eutrophication.

Photo: Chris Happel, irrigation at dawn, Flickr, Creative Commons License 2.0 generic.
19 April 2017

This research identifies the major crops and countries contributing to groundwater depletion. The authors found that 11 percent of unsustainable groundwater used for irrigation is embedded in international crop trade. They highlight the main exporters and importers of these crops, and the associated risks for local and global food and water security.

15 December 2016

An engineering project aims to produce food, energy and fresh water from solar power and seawater by using a new combination of already established technologies. The Sahara Forest Project is run in desert areas of Qatar, Tunisia and Jordan.

Photo credit: Neil Palmer, CIAT, Flickr, Creative Commons License 2.0
29 November 2016

This study models the water demand of land acquisitions in Africa as a function of crop choice, local climate, and irrigation scenarios. Its authors distinguish between green and blue water, equating to water from rainfall and that provided to crops by irrigation respectively. 

Credit: Dan zen, Golden soy, Flickr, Creative Commons Licence 2.0
11 October 2016

This paper by researchers in the US and Australia reports the findings of a long-term field-trial-based investigation into the effect of elevated carbon dioxide concentrations (CO2) on soy yield and drought tolerance. Their findings challenge the widely-held belief that crop yield will be increased by elevated CO2 (the so-called CO2 fertilisation effect) both because of increased photosynthetic rate, and because of lower susceptibility to drought: it has long been assumed that in higher CO2 conditions, stomatal conductance will be lower, leading to slower water loss from the leaves, slower water uptake from the roots, and consequently more moisture remaining in the soil for longer, thereby sustaining crops in limited rainfall.

(Photo: Graeme Law, creative commons licence, Flickr)
28 June 2016

This report discusses how less protein in food and fewer phosphorus compounds added to food products could reduce the eutrophication of the sea. Below is a summary of the research by two of the report’s authors, Anders Grimvall and Eva-Lotta Sundblad from the Swedish Institute for the Marine Environment.

Photo credit: U.S Department of Agriculture (Flickr, creative commons)
10 March 2016

In this paper by researchers from Germany, Kenya, Australia and Sweden, a modeling approach is taken to ascertain the efficacy of applying improved water management techniques on a large scale to increase yields to help meet global demand for food.

16 February 2016

The book provides an analysis of impacts of climate change on water for agriculture, and the adaptation strategies in water management to deal with these impacts.

3 February 2016

The 2016 Global Risks Report (GRR) analyses the responses of 750 experts and decision-makers to the Global Risks Perception Survey, in which they were asked to give an estimate of the likelihood and impact of 29 different risks, categorised into 5 categories: societal (s), technological (t), economic (ec), environmental (en) and geopolitical (g).

18 January 2016

In this article, researchers from Cranfield University, UK, examine the environmental burden associated with the production, manufacturing and distribution of potatoes, pasta and rice. The aim of the research is to highlight the difference that can be made to an individual’s environmental footprint (here focusing on water use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions) by making dietary changes within food groups, rather than between them.

17 December 2015

This paper quantifies what the environmental impacts would be if the typical US diet were to shift in line with the USDA dietary recommendations. The paper has created a lot of interest and debate since it shows that shifting towards healthier diets in some cases can increase the energy, emission and water intensity of the diet. This is why we wanted to provide a more extensive summary and some commentary below. Please do read, share and add your own comments.

For a comment by the study's lead author Michelle Tom see here and for another comment by Professor Michael Hamm see here

30 September 2015

This report by the UK’s Soil Association on cotton and climate change argues that switching to organic cotton could reduce the global warming impact of cotton production by 46% compared to non-organic cotton. Cotton has been called the world’s dirtiest agricultural commodity, owing to its heavy use of insecticides and water, high GHG emissions, and land use.

20 May 2015

This study, which assesses the food supply available to more than 140 nations with populations greater than 1 million, shows that the globalization of trade is creating instability in the food distribution system.  As the world population increases, placing increasing pressure on use of limited land and water resources, food demand has grown and globalisation has made the food supply more sensitive to environmental and market fluctuations.

8 May 2015

A new green energy initiative has been launched by the Japanese meat processor NH Foods. Their Global Water Engineering (GWE) Cohral plant (in Australia)will extract green energy biogas from the waste water stream of production, replacing millions of dollars’ worth of natural gas currently consumed by the company factory.  It is reported that the effect of burning the methane will save the equivalent of 12,000 tonnes of CO2, equivalent to removing 2,700 cars from the road.

31 March 2015

This paper entitled The environmental impact of climate change adaptation on land use and water quality published in Nature Climate Change says that adaptation to climate change could have profound environmental repercussions, potentially generating further pressures and threats for both local and global ecosystems.

26 February 2015

The report Life cycle assessment of tap water: Analysis and comparison with other beverages traces the entire life cycle from water catchment/extraction to serving it up in a glass. The report compares tap water with mineral water and other beverages and shows (unsurprisingly) that from an environmental point of view, tap water is preferable to bottled water and all other beverages. The report was produced by ESU Services – a sustainability consulting firm and commissioned by the Swiss Gas and Water Association (SVGW) in 2014.