Food Security

, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp 59–69 | Cite as

Present and future water requirements for feeding humanity



The Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture recommended that future food production should be concentrated on existing agricultural land in order to avoid further loss of ecosystem functions from terrestrial lands. This paper is a green-blue water analysis of water constraints and opportunities for global food production on current croplands (including permanent pasture). It assesses, for the target year 2050, (1) how far improved land and water management would go towards achieving global food security, (2) the water deficits that would remain in water scarce regions aiming at food self-sufficiency, (3) how those water deficits may be met by food imports, (4) the cropland expansion required in low income countries without the needed purchasing power for such imports, and (5) the proportion of that expansion pressure which will remain unresolved due to potential lack of accessible land. The water surplus remaining on current cropland is compared with water requirements for biofuel production as a competing activity.


Global future food production Green-blue water analysis Water deficits Food import Cropland expansion Unresolved ultimate water deficit 



The authors are much obliged to Professor Asit Biswas and Dr Johan Kuylenstierna for most valuable comments to an earlier version of the manuscript.


  1. CA (2007) Water for food, water for life: a comprehensive assessment of water management in agriculture. In: Molden D (ed) IWMI. Earthscan, London, UKGoogle Scholar
  2. Conway G (1997) The doubly green revolution. Food for all in the twenty-first century. Penguin Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  3. Falkenmark M, Rockström J (2004) Balancing water for humans and nature. The new approach in ecohydrology. Earthscan, London, p 247Google Scholar
  4. Falkenmark M, Molden D (2008) Wake up to realities of river basin closure. Int J Water Resour Dev 24:201–205CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. FAO (2003) World agriculture: towards 2015/30. A FAO perspective. Earthscan, London, UKGoogle Scholar
  6. FAOSTAT (2003) Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Statistical Database. Data from 2003. Last accessed in October, 2008Google Scholar
  7. Gerten D, Schaphoff S, Haberlandt U, Lucht W, Sitch S (2004) Terrestrial vegetation and water balance: hydrological evaluation of a dynamic global vegetation model. Int J Water Resour Dev 286:249–270Google Scholar
  8. IPCC (2007) Climate change 2007—the physical science basis: working group I contribution to the fourth assessment report of the IPCC. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p 1009Google Scholar
  9. Ki-moon B (2008) The new face of hunger. Article, Washington Post March 12, 2008.Google Scholar
  10. Lundqvist J, Barron J, Berndes G, Berntell A, Falkenmark M, Karlberg L, Rockström J (2007) Water pressure and increases in food and bioenergy demand—implications of economic growth and options for decoupling. In: Scenarios on economic growth and resource demand. Background report to the Swedish Environmental Agency Council memorandum 2007:1, pp 55–151Google Scholar
  11. Merrey DJ, Sally H (2008) Micro-agricultural water management technologies for food security in southern Africa: part of the solution or a red herring? Water Policy 10:515–530CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Rockström J, Barron J, Fox P (2003) Water productivity in rain fed agriculture: challenges and opportunities for smallholder farmers in drought-prone tropical agro-ecosystems. In: Kijne JW et al (ed) Water productivity in agriculture: limits and opportunities for improvement. CABI, Wallingford, UKGoogle Scholar
  13. Rockström J, Lannerstad M, Falkenmark M (2007) Assessing the water challenge of a new green revolution in developing countries. PNAS 104:6253–6260PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Rockström J, Falkenmark M, Karlberg L, Hoff H, Rost S, Gerten D (2008) Future water availability for global food production: the potential of green water for increasing resilience to global change. Water Resour Res (in press)Google Scholar
  15. SEI (2005) Sustainable pathways to attain the millennium development goals. Research report. Stockholm Environment Institute, StockholmGoogle Scholar
  16. SIWI (2001) Water harvesting for upgrading of rainfed agriculture. Problem analysis and research needs. By: Rockström J, Fox P, Persson G, and Falkenmark M. SIWI report no 11, Stockholm, SwedenGoogle Scholar
  17. SIWI (2008). Saving water: from field to fork. Curbing losses and wastage in the food chain. SIWI Paper 13. Stockholm International Water InstituteGoogle Scholar
  18. Smakhtin V, Revenga C, Döll P (2004) A pilot global assessment of environmental water requirements and scarcity. Water Int 29:307–317CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Smil V (2000) Feeding the world. A challenge for the twenty-first century. MIT, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  20. UN (2008) The millennium development goals report 2008. United Nations, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  21. World Bank (2005) World Bank, data and statistics. Data from 2005. Last accessed in October, 2008Google Scholar
  22. World Bank (2008) Global purchasing power parities and real expenditures. 2005 International Comparison Program. Washington, DC, US, p 213Google Scholar
  23. Yang H, Reichert P, Abbaspour KC, Zehnder AJB (2003) A water resources threshold and its implications for food security. In: Hoekstra AY (ed) Virtual water trade. Proceedings of the international expert meeting on virtual water trade. Value of water. Research report series no. 12, 2003. UNESCO-IHE, Delft, The Netherlands, pp 111–116Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media B.V. & International Society for Plant Pathology 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Stockholm International Water InstituteStockholmSweden
  2. 2.Stockholm Resilience CenterStockholmSweden
  3. 3.Stockholm Environment InstituteStockholmSweden

Personalised recommendations