Taking care of water resources in the global food system

Water To Food engages in the dissemination of the results achieved within the CWASI (Coping with water scarcity in a globalized world) project.

The project, which is led by Professor Francesco Laio at Politecnico di Torino and funded by the European Research Council, pioneered the scientific research about the agricultural water consumption for food production and trade.

the team

Water consumption for food production accounts for 70% of the total freshwater withdrawal for human uses.

Water Footprint Assessment

The Water Footprint (WF) indicator, introduced in the early 2000s by Arjen Hoekstra, provides a tool to assess water use for food production in space and time, at different resolution scales. Our research develops upon the results from Hoekstra and advances the state of the art about the evaluation of Water Footprint in time and space for several crucial food products. All you need to know about it is collected in this section.


Virtual Water Trade

International food trade is vital for food security: about one-fourth of the food produced for human consumption is traded internationally. The water used by producing areas (or exporting areas) is virtually transferred to consumption areas (or importing areas) through the trade of agricultural commodities. What are the implications of this trade for water resources? Discover more by browsing our publications on the topic.


Society, Economics, Governance

There are many socio-economic and policy factors driving the virtual water of production, consumption, and trade, at both local and global scales. These include population dynamics, political considerations, and economic relationships across countries. This collection contains our research about these factors and their effects on water resources consumption.


Resilience and vulnerabilities

Due to the globalization of resources as governed by trade, countries' dynamics are highly entangled and interconnected. Many countries actually rely on imports to meet their local demand for food, thus ensuring national food security. However, this is just one side of the same coin: when a crisis occurs in one part of the globe, its effects are spread worldwide due to commercial relationships. This also determines countries' vulnerabilities to induced shocks: the more a country relies on imported resources, the more its vulnerability to induced shocks. However, not all crises are the same, nor all countries respond in the same way: here's what to know.


Environmental Impact

Food production can impact water resources through unsustainable withdrawals, namely water withdrawal happens at faster rates than natural resources renewability. Locally, this may generate water stress situations: a strong pressure on the hydrological cycle occurs for which depletion of the resources is determined. Here's how we proposed to measure these impacts.



Corollary research is necessary to define methodologies and disentangle dynamics of complex phenomena in nature and society. Here, we collect the corollary work that helped us build the research's main outputs on the water-food nexus.


How much water is the world consuming for food today?

28,742 km3

Water Cycle

The complex relationships between climatic, agronomic and socio‑economic factors and how they shape the evolution of the worldwide trade of virtual water.

Main goals

  • The dynamics of virtual water flows
  • The international water trade network
  • Impacts and feedbacks for food security
  • Vulnerability of the system to crises
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Play with Data

Do it yourself, with data.
Browse our interactive Data visualization Library.