Water Footprint

Water Footprint - Vertical Farming Italia

Everybody speaks a lot, and rightly, about carbon footprint and about how much an individual, product or service affects the emission of greenhouse gases.

A good measure is the footprint in Tons of CO2 equivalent *, which gives a good idea of how much our way of life can impact on the health of the planet.

There are several calculators in this regard: from that proposed by WWF, through the very accurate Carbon Footprint, up to that of Ca’ Foscari of Venice.

But this is not the only sign that we leave on Earth, there is another, vital, imprint: the water footprint

Water Footprint - Vertical Farming Italia

A problem that in Italy seems to have the right to reporting only during periods of drought, as in 2017 when the amount of rainfall has been 30 % of the average for the reference period (1971-2000), so much that the CNR labeled it as «the driest year from 1800 to today».

During that period, agriculture was clearly the most affected sector: Coldiretti estimated losses of 2 billion euros for crops and farms resulting from drought and extreme weather events.

As always has happened, best ideas born during the worst moments. So many good local initiatives, such as Irriframe, the online platform promoted by the ERC to inform growers about a more efficient use of water (we are talking about saving 25- 30%). Another one is WARBO project, launched to verify the benefits of the artificial recharge of aquifers.

ater Footprint - Vertical Farming Italia

But the problem is even more dramatic if we look that from a global perspective and in the future

«We must produce more food with less water»,Eduardo Mansur affirmed without hesitation during the meeting held in Rome on 17-20 April 2017.

«Not a single organism can live without water, and we certainly cannot produce enough food to feed the world’s population» continued FAO’s director of the Land and Water department.

According to UN estimations, we will be 10 billion people in 2050 and we should produce about 50% more food to meet everyone’s needs

Is all this compatible with the current food production system and available water supplies?

The answer, most likely, is no

Water Footprint - Vertical Farming Italia

But let’s take a step back.

The Earth is rightly defined as the Blue Planet, given that well 71% of our planet is covered with water.

No problem then, you will say!

Here, not really. Because the amount of usable one represents only 0.3%.

Yes, you read that correctly. The 0.3%! Almost all of the water is, of course, in the oceans (97.2%) and in the glaciers (2.15%). The “miserable” 0.65% is what is divided between rivers, lakes and more or less deep aquifers.

And how much of this water do we consume to produce food?

In the US, agriculture contributes to more than 80% of national water consumption, while in Italy, according to a 2014 report by WWF, we are around 85% (adding imported products, we reach 89%).

Note that here we are not talking about water withdrawn, but water consumed or water no longer available in the future.

In a 2012 study, Mekonnen and Hoekstra drew up a table of liters needed to produce some of the main foods. The data speak for themselves:

Water Footprint - Vertical Farming Italia

Important to underline the difference between the different “types” of water consumed:

  • Blue water: refers to the removal of surface and ground water for agricultural, domestic and industrial purposes. It is the amount of fresh water that does not return to the production process in the same way where it was take;
  • Green water: it is the volume of rainwater that does not contribute to surface runoff and refers mainly to evaporative-transpiration water for agricultural uses;
  • Gray water: represents the volume of polluted water, quantified as the volume of water needed to dilute pollutants to the point that the quality of the water returns above the quality standards (Source: Ministry of the Environment).

The consumption of blue water is therefore a more invasive measure from a hydrogeological point of view than the other two.

Are we then destined for extinction?

Water Footprint - Vertical Farming Italia

Not yet. There are already several solutions needed to be improved and applied.

One in all, the fight against waste. According to the NRDC in the USA, 40% of the food produced is not consumed. Given even more absurd if you compare it to the fact that one of eight American is struggling to bring enough food on his table.

Here in Europe we cannot get along better: a 2016 report talks about 88 million tons of food wasted a year, amounting to 143 billion euros lost.

A struggle that obviously starts from a more conscious consumption of water. For this reason, it is useful to compare yourself with a calculator to understand what our personal water footprint is. The final figure will leave you speechless!

A more conscious consumption not only of food, but also of residential water is needed: think, for example, that a banality such as pulling the toilet flushing usually accounts for 30% of our annual domestic consumption.

And then, of course, there are the solutions to be implemented in traditional agriculture.

But that is not enough.

Today, the solution is called soilless cultivation in closed and controlled environments: Indoor Farming

Water Footprint - Vertical Farming Italia

Thanks to the hydroponic, aquaponic and aeroponic techniques, it is possible to achieve a saving of 90% of water compared to traditional cultivation. Not to mention the little, if not zero, use of chemical agents (No pesticides, No herbicides).

But not only that, the realization of Indoor and Vertical Farming also allows a return to a more local market, and consequently a reduction in consumption and waste, as well as obviously a clear saving of soil given the productivity and the higher density of cultivated crops.

In short, there is no magic recipe, but it serves the commitment of everyone, everyone in his small can and must do something because we remember:

No Water, No Future [Nelson Mandela]


* tCO2e: the evening effect produced by CO2 equal to 1 is considered and the impact of the other greenhouse gases (Methane, Nitrous Oxide, Hydrofluorocarbons, Sulfur hexafluoride and Perfluorocarbons) is calculated accordingly.

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Viaggiatore amatoriale, scrittore improvvisato, appassionato di basket e surf. Laureato alla triennale in Scienze Politiche e alla magistrale con lode in Giornalismo e Cultura Editoriale. Co-fondatore di Vertical Farming Italia dove si occupa di Comunicazione e Amministrazione 🌿
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