According to World Resources Institute (WRI), currently more than 25 percent of the world’s agriculture is grown in highly water-stressed areas. That includes half of irrigated cropland, which itself is responsible for 40 percent of the global food supply.

Water stress is defined by the amount of water used in an area compared to its renewable supply. In highly water-stressed regions, 40 percent or more of the supply is used up annually; when that ratio reaches 80 percent, it’s considered extreme. In addition to hurting agriculture production, a stressed supply also affects water managers’ ability to respond to droughts and other severe or chronic shortages.

Water demand in some parts of the world already exceeds natural local supply, as it does in California. Overlaying global crop production maps with WRI’s Aqueduct's Water Risk Atlas reveals agriculture’s current exposure to water stress. The Atlas also shows projected changes.

Current Water Risk, Featuring California View (Source: WRI)
Finding a balance between water availability and agriculture is essential, especially as the global population expands. Only by looking at food and water together is it possible to address the challenges within both.

Forecasts for 2030 water demand, under business-as-usual conditions, show a 50% rise.  Agriculture will drive nearly half of the additional demand, because global calorie production needs to increase 69 percent to feed 9.6 billion people by 2050.

The food-water tension won’t affect just agriculture; agriculture’s growing thirst will squeeze water availability for municipal use, energy production, and manufacturing, as we are seeing in our own state.

By 2050, the world will need about 60 percent more calories annually to feed 9 billion people. Cutting current food loss and waste levels in half would shrink the size of this food gap by 22 percent.

That is why WRI is working on mapping how the world’s relationship with water will be changing in the coming decades and identifying sustainable solutions to increase food production.

Projected Water Risk, Featuring California View (Source: WRI)
To ensure a water- and food-secure future, solutions include:

  1. Reduced food loss and waste (Nearly 25% of global food calories produced go uneaten.)  
  2. Improved storage methods 
  3. Food redistribution
  4. Better food date labels 
  5.  Reduced portion sizes
  6. Consumer awareness campaigns
  7. Collaboration on solutions 
  8. Food loss and waste reduction targets
  9. Collaborative initiatives
  10. Shift to healthier diets 
  11. Reduced biofuel demand 
  12. Achieved low replacement fertility rates (population growth)
  13. Increased crop yields through better soil and water management.
  14. Better data on where and how agriculture is water-constrained provides a tool for a more robust agricultural sector that does not overtax water and other natural resources. 
  15. So, while California’s agricultural water situation is dire, particularly in the Central Valley, unfortunately, we are NOT alone.
Lindsay Abrams, Salon   
World Resources Institute/Coco Cola Corporation

WRI is a global research organization that works closely with leaders to turn big ideas into action to sustain a healthy environment—the foundation of economic opportunity and human well-being.

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