Competition for water resources is increasing as agriculture, municipalities and industries pull from the same scarce freshwater sources. The World Resources Institute’s Aqueduct tool recently revealed that 17 countries, home to a quarter of the world’s population, face “extremely high” baseline water stress – meaning that more than 80% of available water supply is withdrawn (on average) every year. Today, WRI unveiled Aqueduct™ Food (Beta), a new tool that maps current and future water risks to crop production around the world. New findings from Aqueduct Food show that 32% of all irrigated crop production faces extremely high water stress, which will increase to 40% by 2040; and the amount of rainfed crop production facing extremely high seasonal variability of water supply will more than quadruple from 2010 to 2040, as climate change takes an increasing toll.
This first-of-its-kind Beta tool overlays the International Food Policy Research Institute’s (IFPRI’s) crop and food security data with Aqueduct’s widely-used water risk indicators to identify global trends and hotspots. Aqueduct Food contains data for more than 40 crops, including bananas, coffee, soybeans, corn, wheat, rice, cotton, and more. The map and interactive widgets allow analysis of crops globally and by country for exposure to water stress, drought risk, rising demand, commodity prices, population growth and climate change.
“Water scarcity and food insecurity are threatening lives and economies, and can be a driver of conflict and migration,” said Betsy Otto, Global Director, Water Program, World Resources Institute. “We cannot afford to walk blindly into crises that will affect millions. Aqueduct Food shows how water risks to crops will shift and evolve with our changing planet, and help us adapt to them before they become a crisis.”
Global water demand has more than doubled since the 1960s, and agriculture accounts for 70% of the world’s freshwater withdrawals. Irrigated and rainfed crops are vulnerable to differing types of water risks, which Aqueduct Food distinguishes for maximum utility. For example, risks related to competing demands are most pertinent to irrigated crops. One new finding from Aqueduct Food is that more than half of the world’s irrigated wheat production is already exposed to extremely high water stress. By 2040 – due to growing demand for water and climate change – 72% of irrigated wheat production may occur in extremely high water stressed areas.
On the other hand, rainfed crops are highly vulnerable to climate change impacts such as drought risk and variability of water supply. While farmers are used to some level of variability, climate change is intensifying the unpredictability of water flows far beyond the norm. Aqueduct Food shows that 12% of rainfed banana production already faces high to extremely high seasonal variability, but by 2040, it will be 45%. Bananas are very important for food security: according to the FAO, 400 million people in developing countries depend on bananas as a source of food or income.
“We need to ramp up investments in climate-resilient and sustainable food systems,” said Claudia Ringler, the Deputy Director of IFPRI’s Environment and Production Technology Division. “It is impossible for the global community to reduce poverty and end hunger and malnutrition without waking up to water issues. We can come one step closer to feeding the world by prioritizing water security. If we fail to act, our ability to feed the world will be in jeopardy.”
To feed the world in 2040, we will need to produce 42% more food than in 2010, according to WRI. Unlike many other tools, Aqueduct Food provides projections out to 2040 that take into account changes in the climate and population growth. Aqueduct Food can be used to screen for risks across a portfolio of locations; show areas of the world where water stress, seasonal variability and coastal eutrophication will increase due to socioeconomic growth and climate change; and identify hotspots.
Leaders in ministries, companies and development institutions need this information to make evidence-based decisions for agricultural policy, investments and sourcing – now and in the future. Cargill, an international company that provides food, agriculture, financial and industrial products and services, is a WRI corporate partner and has provided funding for the development of Aqueduct Food.
“At Cargill, we believe agriculture is how we will accelerate sustainable water solutions that protect water quality and quantity, promote access to clean water and improve food security. To do this, we need innovative management tools,” said Jill Kolling, Vice President, Global Sustainability. “Aqueduct Food will provide useful information as companies and other stakeholders align their current and future sustainability strategies with climate and water realities.” Better planning and urgent action on resilience are needed to ensure that water availability does not become a barrier to increasing food production. There are a number of solutions to alleviate water risk and food insecurity, such as improving irrigation efficiency, restoring degraded soils, choosing the right crops for the right ecosystems, reducing food loss and waste, and shifting diets away from water-intensive food production in water stressed areas.
“We created Aqueduct Food because we identified a gap in resources to manage long-term water and agriculture dynamics globally,” said Sara Walker, Senior Manager at WRI, who helped develop the tool. “We hope that Aqueduct Food will help decision makers understand the long-term water-related risks to, and opportunities for improving food security. This can empower actors to be proactive, not just reactive, to food and water issues.”