How Much Water is used for Agriculture? A Scary Truth

This is a very good question and one that is becoming more prevalent due to climate change and an increasing population to feed.

2018: 7 billion people

2050: 9 billion people

That is a scary jump! This will take double the amount of food we now produce, to feed that population. How can we feed DOUBLE the amount, while climate change effects such as increasing temperatures and natural disasters make it harder for us to grow food?

That is the big question many people are asking.

There are a few things farmers and scientists are working on to feed our growing population without using more land such as using breeding practices to enhance yield and battle against climate extremes such as improving drought resistance.

Unfortunately, even with these changes, it is still looking pretty hard to produce that much food and in a way that does not cost too much or take too long, which most of those processes do.

Water Usage in Agriculture

Here are some interesting facts that can help you get an idea in regards to the extent to which agriculture contributes to climate change.

Water

Water is life. Remember that. It provides life to everything, and almost everything is made up of water, including us! It is a precious resource and yet we waste it so effortlessly without thinking about its importance and value. The only time we realize how precious it is is when it is missing! Like when we are in a drought or our house water has been temporally made unavailable.

Astonishingly, Agriculture uses 70% of the world’s fresh water.

Yep, that is a scary amount.

But what I want you to take away from this is what food group is the most water intensive.

Here is an infographic to help you understand how much water, 1 kg of beef uses…

So that not only tells you how much water is needed for 1 kg of beef but also the land needed and therefore deforestation and habitat loss as a result.

Land Usage in Agriculture

Animal agriculture is the single largest user of land, contributing to many environmental problems, including global warming and climate change.

Every 7 seconds, land, the size of a football field, is stripped of its vegetation and used for animals to graze on or to grow food such as corn and wheat for farm animals to consume.

CO2 Emissions in Animal Agriculture

It is true that transportation and the burning of fossil fuels are responsible for emitting large amounts of GHG emissions and contributing to climate change extensively, but what is less heard about is the substantial role animal agriculture has to climate change.

The FAO stated the animal agriculture emits 18% or 1/5 of human-induced GHG Emissions, more than the transport sector.

What is scary is that according to the FAOSTAT (FAO 2008) is that, globally, 56 billion land animals are reared and slaughtered for consumption annually. Consequently, this is expected to increase as the population increases, with most of it occurring in the developing world (Steinfield et al., 2006).

Consequently, the increase in consumption of farm animals and other animal products such as eggs and dairy will initiate the increase of GHG emissions.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA 2004) has stated that:

GHG emissions from livestock are inherently tied to livestock population sizes because the livestock is either directly or indirectly the source for the emissions.’

Co2 is the most significant GHG that is directly affecting the warming of our planet because of the large volume of its emissions. Out of all the human-induced influences on climate change over the past 250 years, the most significant increase is due to increasing CO2 concentration coming from burning fossil fuels and deforestation (Biebaum et al. 2007)

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The animal agriculture sector is responsible for emitting 9% of CO2 emissions, which majority is due to fertilizer production for feed crops, on-farm energy expenditures, feed transport, animal product processing and transport, and land use changes (Steinfeld et al. 2006). Interestingly, burning fossil fuels to produce fertilizers for feed crops can emit 41 million metric tons of CO2 per year (Steinfield et al., 2006).

What Can We Do?

It is quite intimidating when you realize what we are dealing with, but with small steps, we can reduce the amount of water, land, and CO2 that animal agriculture uses together.

There is a large and growing interest and willingness amongst consumers to make dietary changes to reduce their impact on this world.

Veganism is a core philosophy from which the boundaries of social justice are extended to include all non-humans and the natural environment.

In fact, according to Lux Research, plant-based proteins are expected to make up a third of the protein market by 2054. Meat companies are even getting on board.
Have you heard of the Bleeding Vegan Burger? It is amazing what science can do! Check out the video for a full rundown of what it is!

 

What I can tell you about this burger in regards to our topic here, is that is will use 75% less water and 95% less land! How amazing is that?!

Additionally, if you thought it couldn’t get any better, it uses 87% fewer greenhouse gases then a beef burger… ahh gimmie it already!

In the meantime, there are many alternatives to meat already, such as lentil patties, chickpea burgers, veggie sausages vegan cheeses, plant milk, the list goes on! So many companies are on board with this message, because they are listening to their consumers, and we are all becoming more aware of our impact on this world.

Ladies and gentlemen, the present has never looked so easy to help the world and its beings, get on board! 🙂

Thanks for tuning in and learning a thing or two!

Comment below any thoughts you have about this topic, I’d love to hear from you!

Yours Truly,

 

Danielle Packer

The Earth Co.

 

References

Bierbaum RM, Holdren JP, MacCracken MC, Moss RH, Raven PH, eds. 2007. Confronting Climate Change: Avoiding the Unmanageable, Managing the Unavoidable. Washington, DC: United Nations Foundation. Available: http://vvww.unfoundation.org/files/pdf/2007/SEG_Report.pdf accessed 23 October 2007

Steinfeld H, Gerber P, Wassenaar T, Castel V, Rosales M, de Haan C. 2006. Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). 2008. FAOSTAT. Available: http://faostat.fao.org/ [accessed 24 March 20081

USDA. 2004. U.S. Agriculture and Forestry Greenhouse GasInventory: 1990-2001. Washington, DC:U.S. Department of Agriculture.

DeFries, R.S., Rudel, T., Uriarte, M. and Hansen, M., 2010. Deforestation driven by urban population growth and agricultural trade in the twenty-first century. Nature Geoscience, 3(3), p.178.

 

 

12 thoughts on “How Much Water is used for Agriculture? A Scary Truth

  1. Everyday I learn something new and today was day of knowing nature and how it has been providing to us since centuries. If today, we decide not to protect nature, there will be no nature left for the coming generations.

    Lovely article. Enjoyed reading every bit of it!

    1. Hey Rudolph! I am so glad you got to learn something from this article! It is so true that we need to protect nature for generations to come!

  2. Hi, thanks for all the really useful info! It definitely makes me want to learn from this and try and reduce my own personal strains on the environment, so we can sustain it longer for our children. The amount of water for 1kg of beef is astonishing I never thought of it along these lines! Great article, thank you.

  3. Very nice, well-researched article. I had no idea the size of the impact on the environment of beef. I stopped eating beef many years ago and I feel much better.
    I would be interested to understand the impact on the environment of our eating fish, chicken and pork. Is the impact similar?

    1. Hey, Eric! Yes, it is quite astonishing itsnt it! It is just something we don’t think about when it comes to our food choices. That is great you have stopped eating beef! The amount of water you are saving is huge!
      FYI:
      Pork uses 5,998 liters per kilo
      Chicken uses 4325 liters per kilo

      So they are still much higher than, for example, potatoes which use 287 liters per kilo.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Louise! Yes, I do agree with you! It is very important to spread this message so everyone can make informed choices about their diet.

  4. As someone said many years ago that “water is the liquid of life” and this is so true. Where would we be without water? Every living thing requires water even down to the smallest microscopic organism. Because we depend so much on water it is one of our most precious resources and we should do all that we can to preserve it.

    1. Thanks for commenting Norman! You are absolutely right, water is sooo important for all things in life, we need to realise this importance an do what we can to reduce the amount of water we use. especially for animal agriculture.

  5. Wow this was a really interesting article! I love hearing about new ways of helping to sustain our earth for generations to come. I wrote a film based on our depleted rain forests and hopefully one day you’ll see it on the big screen. I live in a desert area where future water availability is a concern and I think things like this will be very important for the future of our area. And I want to try the impossible burger!
    Thank you for the information!

    1. Hye Stacy! Thanks for commenting 🙂 Wow, that is really amazing that you have made a documentary! I am hoping I will indeed be able to see it! It is quite scary, isn’t it? Water is essential for everything to live and grow, we need to do everything in our power to look after it. And yes, keen to try this burger one day soon!

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