Publications — Virtual Water Trade

Water Resources, Food Security and the Role of Virtual Water Trade in the MENA Region

by Water To Food Team

Food security, and in particular food availability, depends on environmental resources, climatic conditions and agricultural practices, having water resources as a common denominator.

There is major concern about food security in countries having limited water resources, due to the large volumes of water that are required to produce food commodities. Water-deficit countries tend to rely on international trade to close the gap between water (and thus food) demand and supply.

Against this backdrop, the purpose of this study is twofold. First, to analyse water resources in the Middle East and North African region also considering the political economy trends and dynamics, which drive the region’s demand for water. Secondly, the study aims to increase understanding on the role that trade of agricultural commodities has played in meeting the requirements of the MENA populations, in terms of food and associated water ‘embedded’ as a factor of production.

The study argues that virtual water trade, that is, the virtual transfer of the water used for agricultural production from producing to consuming countries, has provided the region’s economies with water and food security over the past 25 years. The study shows that virtual water imports have more than doubled and the increase has been more than proportional to population growth in the area.

Food products account by far for the largest share of virtual water flows, while crops and high value foods are the main categories of agricultural products associated with virtual water imports. The largest share of the MENA imports originate from outside the region, thus determining a marked dependency on water resources available elsewhere, but not always from water-secure countries.