Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 16, Issue 1, pp 259–272 | Cite as

Globalization and natural resources: the expansion of the Spanish agrifood trade and its impact on water consumption, 1965–2010

  • Rosa Duarte
  • Vicente Pinilla
  • Ana Serrano
Original Article


Beginning in 1960, the Spanish agricultural sector underwent an intensive process of development, resulting in important structural changes, not only in the sector itself, but also in the relationship of the agrarian system to natural resources. These changes were closely related to the growth of per capita income and Spain’s increasing integration into international markets. In the last five decades, the volume of Spanish agricultural trade has increased strongly, with a concomitant increase in the consumption of domestic water resources, requiring the construction of water infrastructure for irrigation. This paper examines the impact on water use in Spain during a period of economic modernization and trade liberalization. More specifically, we are interested in obtaining virtual water trade flow trends and identifying the major drivers responsible for these trajectories, via a decomposition analysis. Our results point to a large increase in virtual water exports and imports, primarily driven by the scale effect, that is, by the growing integration into international markets. The composition effect and changes in water intensity entailed a moderation in water consumption.


Water consumption Virtual water Globalization Agrifood trade 



The authors wish to thank Gloria Jarne for her help and advice with the previous versions of this paper. This work has been partially supported by a doctoral grant from the Government of Spain and by the Ministry of Science and Innovation of the Spanish Government, projects ECO 2012-3328 and ECO2010-14929, and the Department of Science, Technology and Universities of the Government of Aragon and the European Social Fund to the Research Group for “Agrifood Economic History” and the Research Group “Growth, Demand and Natural Resources.” Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the XIV International Conference of the Spanish Agricultural Society and the 7th European Society for Environmental History (ESEH) Conference. The authors also thank two anonymous referees for their helpful comments. The usual disclaimers apply.

Supplementary material

10113_2014_752_MOESM1_ESM.docx (1.1 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 1114 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Economic AnalysisFaculty of Economics and Business StudiesZaragozaSpain
  2. 2.Department of Applied Economics and Economic HistoryFaculty of Economics and Business StudiesZaragozaSpain
  3. 3.Department of EconomyFaculty of Economics and Business StudiesGironaSpain

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