- Francesca Greco, Francesca GrecoKing's College London
- Martin KeulertzMartin KeulertzUniversity of the West of England
- and David DentDavid DentIndependent Scientist
Virtual water is the water contained in food, understood not only as the physical amount within the product but also as the amount of water required to generate it over time, from planting to final harvest. Despite Tony Allan defined virtual water in the context of the water needed to produce agricultural commodities, the concept has been subsequently expanded to include the water needed to produce non-agricultural commodities and industrial goods by Arjen Hoekstra, the creator of the water footprint indicator. Virtual water is a revolutionary concept because it describes something never conceptualized before: the water “embedded” in a product. Allan used virtual water “food water” and “embedded water” as interchangeable terms. Virtual water “trade” is the result of food trade: where agricultural goods are traded across countries, the water needed to produce that product in country A is, in fact, consumed in country B. Country B is therefore not consuming its own local resources when consuming imported food. Allan believed that this mechanism could alleviate irrigation water needs in water-scarce areas when food imports are in place. The virtual water content of a product (measured in liters per kilo) is provided not only by the sum of the irrigation water that has been withdrawn from surface and underground sources in order to grow crops—called “blue water.” Virtual water is also composed of the rainwater consumed by plants and persisting in agricultural soil moisture, which does not percolate down to the aquifers or go back to rivers and lakes. This second component is called “green water.” The green- and blue-water components form the total amount of water embedded in crops, and they are the two components of virtual water. Allan borrowed the concepts of green and blue water from the work of Malin Falkenmark. Virtual water and virtual water “trade” have been largely explored and studied at both local and global levels, becoming the subjects of thousands of papers between 1993 and 2022, which helped uncover global appropriation of a local resource that is unevenly distributed by nature and very often unequally “traded” by humans: water.
- Management and Planning