Food trade drains global water sources at ‘alarming’ rates

Thursday, March 30, 2017
By Paul Martin

By Matt McGrath
30 March 2017

The global market for foodstuffs is depleting water sources in many parts of the world quicker than they can naturally be refilled.

The complex trade is increasing pressure on non-renewable groundwater, mainly used for irrigating crops such as rice, wheat and cotton.

Pakistan, the US and India are the countries exporting the most food grown with unsustainable water.

Researchers say that without action, food supplies will be threatened.

Around 43% of the water used to irrigate crops around the world comes from underground aquifers, as opposed to rivers and lakes. Many of these sources are being used up quicker than they can be refilled from rainfall.

Back in 2000, experts believed that non-renewable resources sustained 20% of global irrigation. In the 10 years to 2010, this increased by more than a fifth.

While scientists have long known about the depletion of groundwater, this new study sets out to understand how supplies are impacted by the booming international trade in food and crops.

The vast majority of the world’s populations live in countries that source nearly all their staple crop imports from nations who deplete significant amounts of groundwater to irrigate these foodstuffs.

The researchers found that some 11% of the non-renewable groundwater used for irrigation is embedded in the the global food trade. Two-thirds of this are accounted for by Pakistan, the US and India.

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