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Impact of food consumption on water footprint and food security in Tunisia

Abstract

Over the next few years, Tunisia will face a growing scarcity of water. The concept of a food consumption water footprint has been recently applied to expand knowledge about water management and to respond to problems of food insecurity. In this study, following the Water Footprint Network (WFN) method, we assessed and analysed the food consumption water footprint of Tunisian households by geographical location and by group of food products. We used results from national food surveys to collect the quantities of food consumed and the WFN database containing water footprints of food products specific to Tunisia. We found that the average water footprint for the main consumed food groups has increased by 31% during recent decades, from 1208 m3/capita/year in 1985 to 1586 m3/capita/year in 2010. Despite the decline in cereal consumption in Tunisia, the food water footprint has continued to rise as a result of increased consumption of animal source products. This increase is associated with regional variations in food choices that imply large differences in water footprints. Urban diets present higher water footprints than rural diets proportionally to higher standards of living. This study provides a new perspective on the water footprint of food consumption in Tunisia by using dietary data at the household level and demonstrated significant variability in water footprints due to different food consumption modes, and socio-economic and geographic characteristics. Future food consumption trends will likely create more pressure on water resources, especially in Tunis city and coastal areas of Tunisia. Special measures related to price policies, sensitization of consumers, and changes in production systems may have to be taken by policy makers to reduce the water footprint in order to improve food security strategies and water management in Tunisia.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The interbank average market exchange rate for 2010: 1$ (United States Dollar) = 1.43TND (Tunisian Dinar)

  2. 2.

    We used the data between 1985 and 2010, and removed data for 1980 because Sfax County was included in the Southern region in 1980 but since 1985 it was included in the Center-east region, according to the INS database.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their very useful comments and suggestions which have improved the quality of the manuscript. This research was funded by the research project n° 106545 “Eau virtuelle et sécurité alimentaire en Tunisie” financed by The International Development Research Centre (IDRC). Additional support for one of the coauthors was provided by the Livestock Agri-Food Systems (LAFS) CGIAR Program led by ILRI.

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Souissi, A., Mtimet, N., Thabet, C. et al. Impact of food consumption on water footprint and food security in Tunisia. Food Sec. 11, 989–1008 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12571-019-00966-3

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Keywords

  • Water footprint
  • Virtual water
  • Food security
  • Tunisian diet
  • Water scarcity
  • Consumer behaviour