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Strategic importance of green water in international crop trade


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  • Aldaya, M.M.
  • Allan, J.A.
  • Hoekstra, A.Y.
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    Virtual water is the volume of water used to produce a commodity or service. Hitherto, most virtual water 'trade' studies have focused on its potential contribution to saving water, especially in water short regions. Very little, however, has been said about the opportunity cost of the associated water. The present research critically evaluates the strategic importance of green water (soil water originating from rainfall) in relation to international commodity trade. Besides having a lower opportunity cost, the use of green water for the production of crops has generally less negative environmental externalities than the use of blue water (irrigation with water abstracted from ground or surface water systems). Although it is widely known that major grain exporters - the USA, Canada, France, Australia and Argentina - produce grain in highly productive rain-fed conditions, green water volumes in exports have rarely been estimated. The present study corroborates that green water is by far the largest share of virtual water in maize, soybean and wheat exports from its main exporting countries (USA, Canada, Australia and Argentina) during the period 2000-2004. Insofar virtual water is 'traded' towards water-scarce nations that heavily depend on their blue water resources, green virtual-water 'trade' related to these commodities plays a role in ensuring water and water-dependent food security and avoiding further potential damage to the water environments in both importing and exporting countries. This potential of international green virtual-water 'trade', however, is constrained by factors such as technology, the potential for further increases in the productivity of soil and irrigation water, the level of socio-economic development, national food policies and international trade agreements.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Ecological Economics.

    Volume (Year): 69 (2010)
    Issue (Month): 4 (February)
    Pages: 887-894

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    Handle: RePEc:eee:ecolec:v:69:y:2010:i:4:p:887-894

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    Keywords: Virtual water Green water Maize Soybean Wheat Trade Blue water use;


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    1. Chapagain, A.K. & Hoekstra, A.Y. & Savenije, H.H.G. & Gautam, R., 2006. "The water footprint of cotton consumption: An assessment of the impact of worldwide consumption of cotton products on the water resources in the cotton producing countries," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 60(1), pages 186-203, November.
    2. A. Hoekstra & A. Chapagain, 2007. "Water footprints of nations: Water use by people as a function of their consumption pattern," Water Resources Management, Springer, vol. 21(1), pages 35-48, January.
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    Cited by:
    1. Xiaoling Su & Jianfang Li & Vijay Singh, 2014. "Optimal Allocation of Agricultural Water Resources Based on Virtual Water Subdivision in Shiyang River Basin," Water Resources Management, Springer, vol. 28(8), pages 2243-2257, June.
    2. Novo, P. & Garrido, A. & Varela-Ortega, C., 2009. "Are virtual water "flows" in Spanish grain trade consistent with relative water scarcity?," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 68(5), pages 1454-1464, March.
    3. María Jesús Beltrán & Esther Velázquez, 2011. "Del metabolismo social al metabolismo hídrico," Documentos de Trabajo de la Asociación de Economía Ecológica en España 01_2011, Asociación de Economía Ecológica en España.
    4. Ansink, Erik, 2010. "Refuting two claims about virtual water trade," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 69(10), pages 2027-2032, August.
    5. Dennis Wichelns, 2010. "Virtual Water: A Helpful Perspective, but not a Sufficient Policy Criterion," Water Resources Management, Springer, vol. 24(10), pages 2203-2219, August.
    6. Pandeya, B. & Mulligan, M., 2013. "Modelling crop evapotranspiration and potential impacts on future water availability in the Indo-Gangetic Basin," Agricultural Water Management, Elsevier, vol. 129(C), pages 163-172.
    7. Christos Zoumides & Adriana Bruggeman & Theodoros Zachariadis & Stelios Pashiardis, 2013. "Quantifying the Poorly Known Role of Groundwater in Agriculture: the Case of Cyprus," Water Resources Management, Springer, vol. 27(7), pages 2501-2514, May.
    8. Rattan Lal, 2014. "Climate Strategic Soil Management," Challenges, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 5(1), pages 43-74, February.
    9. Larson, Donald F., 2013. "Blue water and the consequences of alternative food security policies in the Middle East and North Africa for water security," Policy Research Working Paper Series 6464, The World Bank.
    10. Mubako, Stanley & Lahiri, Sajal & Lant, Christopher, 2013. "Input–output analysis of virtual water transfers: Case study of California and Illinois," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 93(C), pages 230-238.
    11. Niemeyer, Insa & Garrido, Alberto, 2011. "Latin American Agricultural Trade: The Role of the WTO in Sustainable Virtual Water Flows," 2011 International Congress, August 30-September 2, 2011, Zurich, Switzerland 114615, European Association of Agricultural Economists.
    12. Chen Zhang & Edward McBean & Jeanne Huang, 2014. "A Virtual Water Assessment Methodology for Cropping Pattern Investigation," Water Resources Management, Springer, vol. 28(8), pages 2331-2349, June.


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