Virtual Water: an Interview with Tony Allan

By Arielle Golden

On Thursday, June 28, the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project and the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition will release Eating Planet–Nutrition Today: A Challenge for Mankind and for the Planet in New York City. Today, Nourishing the Planet highlights a contributing author of Eating Planet, and shares his views on how to fix the broken food system. If you live in NYC, you can register to attend for FREE by clicking HERE, or tune in on the 28th via livestream. We will be taking questions in real time from the audience, from the livestream, and from Twitter and Facebook.

Tony Allan calls for an increased awareness of our water footprint. (photo credit: Missouri Department of Natural Resources)

Tony Allan, a leading international expert on water, introduced the concept of virtual water to help quantify something most people haven’t considered:  how much water does it really take to produce food and goods, and how can we stop taking our water resources for granted?

Our relationship with the true value of water has only recently come under scrutiny, as the population increases more rapidly than ever before.  To begin reevaluating our water use, Allan suggests turning to the “de-facto water managers of the world”: farmers. Seventy percent of our water use is in agriculture, which makes farmers the stewards of this resource.

Allan discusses his views in Eating Planet—Nutrition Today: a challenge for mankind and for the planet, a new book by the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition, which outlines ideas for a radical rethinking of the global food system.

He discusses what he deems a “golden rule” in water use: the development and diversification of economies is always accompanied by massive increases in the productivity of water, and these increases are delivered by farmers using big volumes of water that are crucial to food production. But the converse is also true: developing economies that struggle or face overwhelming challenges in combining their land, water, and capital see little or no improvement in water productivity.

Allan does not see a future in which nations go to war over water access. Instead, food will be the contentious commodity, and sustainably intensifying the use of scarce water resources will become a priority to stabilize food prices. Because public policies often introduce financial pressures that overwhelm attempts to get water valued, we cannot yet fully understand its cost of delivery and environmental impacts of its use. Allan predicts that we will continue to see these problems escalate for generations to come, until we can assess and devise a solution that is socially and environmentally just.

If you live in NYC, you can register to attend for FREE by clicking HERE, or tune in on the 28th via livestream. We will be taking questions in real time from the audience, from the livestream, and from Twitter and Facebook. You can also purchase your own copy of Eating Planet for $3.99 on Amazon or iTunes.

Arielle Golden is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

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