70 per cent of global water is used for agricultural production. As a result of unevenly distributed global water resources, changing consumer demand, improved transportation, seeds and storage systems and the supermarket “revolution”, the global food system has been affected by dramatic changes since the 1970s. In today’s world, agricultural trade is a key element to alleviate regional water scarcity, where food is produced, traded, processed and sold to consumers. However, within the food supply chain, up to 50 per cent of produce is wasted due to poor storage, transport, wasteful consumer behavior and harvest losses. In each and every moment of food waste in the supply chain, water resources are wasted, too. Recent studies have therefore identified 'water losses in the food supply chain' and how these losses can be avoided (FDF 2012; Barilla 2013; Sarni 2012; GIZ 2012).
Human food consumption requires on average 1240 cubic meters of water per year globally. However, in developed economies, this amount may double depending on meat consumption patterns. Since most customers in developed countries purchase their (often processed) food at retailers such as supermarkets, long food supply chains play an important role for the supply of food and thus water in food. However, recent studies have suggested that 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted throughout the food supply chain (IMECHE 2013; Barilla 2013). This is the equivalent of 43 per cent of caloric production. Food waste per person accumulates to 110 kg of edible food in the United States, 108 in Italy, 99 in France, 82 in Germany, and 72 in Sweden (Barilla 2013). As a result, the British Institute for Mechanical Engineers has calculated that 30-50 per cent of food is wasted. At the same time, stakeholders in the food supply chain waste precious water resources due to poor practices. Translated into water consumption, up to 1200 cubic meters per year may be wasted by individuals in industrialized countries (WFN 2013). Given the projected water gap of 30 per cent in relation to availability of water resources in 2030 The expansion of arable land will only be able to meet 9 per cent of increased food demand. At the same time, energy security as well as a rise of middle classes in developing countries will place further burdens on available water resources. Thus, improved food supply chain management will be of great relevance to avoid a global water crisis at a time of climate change and population increase (Sarni 2012).
For example, farmers must be supported to only produce agricultural produce with improved seeds that avoids over-irrigation and decreases post-harvest losses. Governments must invest in improved storage and transportation; food processors must decrease production waste and retailers must cut down disposal rates of unsold food. Finally, consumers must be encouraged to consume edible food that may be past its expiration date.
In order to illustrate the role of water in food supply chains, Water Footprinting is a useful way to identify and manage the amount of water used in food supply chains. The Water Footprint Network in the Netherlands has developed methods to apply the virtual water concept for policy making.
Water Footprints play a key role in water stewardship concepts that seek to involve all stakeholders in agricultural water management along the food supply chain. Water Stewardship is a business-oriented framework to assess and disclose risks and opportunities, introduce improved governance concepts, lead to improved collaboration between farmers, business, NGOs, civil society and other stakeholders in the supply chain and measure water use through water footprinting. The Water Stewardship concept has been developed and promoted by the CEO Water Mandate, private sector companies such as SABMiller and Coca Cola, GIZ, Deloitte Consulting and UNEP to propose innovations in food supply chain management. If applied on a wider scale, the water stewardship concept can devise businesses to effectively manage water in the food supply chain (Sarni 2012; GIZ 2012).
Other concepts include natural resource accounting methods such as, e.g. through water accounting by agents in the food supply chain. Water accounting is a systematic process of identifying, recognising, quantifying, reporting, and assuring information about water, the rights or other claims to that water, and the obligations against that water. If applied by businesses, water accounting can provide a framework to systematically measure water use all along the food supply chain (Water Accounting Standards Board 2009).
Alliance for Water Stewardship
British Food and Drink Federation
Efficiency Booklet_WEB.pdf http://www.fdf.org.uk/corporate_pubs/Water Efficiency Booklet_WEB.pdf
CEO Water Mandate
Water Accounting Standards Board
Barilla (2013) Food Waste, Causes Impacts Proposals. Rome: Barilla.
Online. http://www.barillacfn.com/en/position-paper/pp-spreco-alimentare-cause/ (accessed: 24.10.2013).
FDF (2012) Saving Water along the Food Supply Chain. London: FDF.
Online. Efficiency Booklet_WEB.pdf http://www.fdf.org.uk/corporate_pubs/Water Efficiency Booklet_WEB.pdf (accessed: 24.10.2013).
GIZ (2012) Water Stewardships. Eschborn:GIZ. Online: http://www.water-energy-food.org/en/initiatives/view__279/water-stewardship-initiative--upscaling-cooperation-with-the-private-sector-and-creating-innovative-partnerships.html (accessed: 24.10.2013).
IMECHE (2013) Global Food: waste not, want not. London: Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
Online. http://www.imeche.org/knowledge/themes/environment/global-food (accessed: 24.01.2013).
Sarni, W (2012) Water efficiency in the food supply chain in Latin America and the Carribean. Conference presentation.
Online. http://www.fundacionfemsa.org/assets/014/21939.pdf (accessed: 24.10.2013).
WFN (2013) Introduction. Delft: Water Footprint Network. Online. http://www.waterfootprint.org/?page=files/home (accessed: 24.10.2013).