30 Jun 2011
The Role of Virtual Water Trade in Food Security: the Case of Ethiopia
NCCR Trade Regulation Working Paper No. 2011/27, authored by Baris Karapinar.
Following the global “food crisis” of 2008, the recent prices hikes in 2011 and successive seasons of droughts, more than 5 million Ethiopians are currently in need of emergency food relief. The country’s chronic food insecurity is strongly connected to high vulnerability to water scarcity, while the sustainability of its water resources is increasingly exposed to the globalization of food and agriculture. In this context, based on the concept of “virtual water” – the total volume of water used to produce a commodity – the paper investigates how the patterns of “virtual water trade” affect the sustainability of water resources and food security. Our preliminary results suggest that negative virtual water flow arising from exports of water intensive commodities is not a major contributor to food insecurity – as the water used to produce these commodities by end large does not compete with water used to produce food staples. However, positive virtual water flow resulting from food aid and agricultural imports alleviates the impact of water deficiency caused by precipitation variability which is the main cause of food insecurity in the country. As such virtual water imports are an important channel through which international trade contributes to food security. Given that virtual water studies are at a relatively pioneering stage, this is one of the first empirical case studies on sub-SaharanAfrica. It is envisaged that the results of the research will have policy relevance beyond Ethiopia, and shed some light on the heightened debate on food security, water scarcity and climate change adaptation in sub-Saharan Africa.