Surveys in Geophysics

, Volume 37, Issue 2, pp 503–527 | Cite as

Water and Food in the Twenty-First Century

  • Ghislain de MarsilyEmail author
  • Rodrigo Abarca-del-Rio


In 2000, the World population was 6.2 billion people; it reached 7 billion in 2012 and is expected to reach 9.5 billion (±0.4) in 2050 and 11 billion (±1.5) in 2100, according to the 2012 UN projections (Gerland et al. in Science 346:234–237, 2014). The trend after 2100 is still one of the global demographic growths, but after 2060, Africa is the only continent where the population would still increase. The amount of water consumed annually to produce the food necessary to meet the needs of the populations varies greatly between countries, from about 600 to 2500 m3/year per capita (Zimmer in L’empreinte eau. Les faces cachées d’une ressource vitale. Charles Léopold Meyer, Paris, 2013), depending on their wealth, their food habits, and the percentage of food waste they generate (on average, 30 % of the food produced is wasted). In 2000, the total food production was on the order of 3300 million tons (in cereal equivalents). In 2014, it is estimated that about 0.8 billion inhabitants of the planet suffer from hunger (FAO in World agriculture: towards 2030–2050. FAO, Rome, 2014. and do not get the nutrition they need to be in good health or, in the case of children, to grow properly (both physically and intellectually). This food deficit was on the order of 40 million tons of cereal equivalents in 2014. The number of inhabitants with a food deficit was about 0.85 billion before the 2008 crisis and was decreasing annually, but it increased abruptly after 2008 up to 1 billion inhabitants and is slowly decreasing now. Assuming a World average water consumption for food of 1300 m3/year per capita in 2000, 1400 m3/year in 2050, and 1500 m3/year in 2100, a volume of water of around 8200 km3/year was needed in 2000, 13,000 km3/year will be needed in 2050, and 16,500 km3/year in 2100 (Marsily in L’eau, un trésor en partage. Dunod, Paris, 2009). Can bioenergy be added to food production? Will that much water be available on Earth, and where will it come from? Is climate change going to modify the answers to these questions? Can severe droughts occur? Can there be conflicts related to a food deficit? Some preliminary answers and scenarios for food production will be given in this paper from a hydrologist’s viewpoint.


World water stocks and balance Climate change Food supply Bioenergy Green and blue water Virtual water El Niño Water conflicts 



The authors wish to thank the two reviewers, Prof. M. Besbes and one anonymous colleague, for their help in correcting and improving this article; they also wish to express their gratitude to the Guest Editor of this issue, Dr. Anny Cazenave, for her invitation to prepare this paper together and for organizing the reviewing and final editing of this work.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sorbonne Universités, UPMC Univ. Paris 06, CNRS, EPHE, UMR 7619 MetisParisFrance
  2. 2.French Academy of SciencesParisFrance
  3. 3.Departamento de Geofísica (DGEO), Facultad de Ciencias Físicas y MatemáticasUniversidad de ConcepciónConcepciónChile

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