Farming and ESG. Part 2 – Water Consumption

Farming and Water

In Part 1 of Farming and ESG, we covered the challenges with stubble burning. In Part 2 we are now looking at water consumption. Farming feeds the world and employs over 30% of the global workforce. Unfortunately, this scale of production uses over 70% of the world’s freshwater supply.

Water Consumptions

All crops need water; however, some crops have far higher demands. Rice requires huge volumes of water, over 2,500 litres per kilo of rice, about 10 times that of potatoes.  However, even “inefficient” rice is far more efficient when compared to nuts (almonds, pistachios, etc.). Nuts require around 15,000 litres of fresh water to produce a single kilo of nuts.  This is 30 to 60 times more than potatoes.

To put this into scale: California nut production consumes around three times as much water as the whole of Los Angles.

The table below gives examples of some of the most well known crops

Crop Litres of Water Required per Kg of Crop (Low) Litres of Water Required per Kg of Crop (High)
Almonds (in California) 14,000 16,000
Cashews 13,000 14,000
Rice 2,500 5,000
Cotton 2,500 3,000
Pistachios 1,500 3,000
Sugar cane 1,500 2,500
Corn 800 1,000
Wheat 400 600
Barley 200 300
Oats 200 250


Water v Calories v Complexity

While overconsumption of water is a challenge, with climate change and increased droughts, it is a far more complex issue than simply “more water is bad”.  Understanding farming and water consumption requires comparing many complex factors, including the source of the water and the comparative calorie production.

For example, a litre of water from Wales (known for its rain) is less of an issue than a litre of rain in California, which suffers droughts.  Calorie production is another important factor. While nuts consume huge amounts of water, they also produce high calories – around ten times more calories per kg than potatoes.

What I’m worried about is that if there isn’t sound science under [how companies are judged] we’re going to make a lot of big mistakes along the way,” he says. “This isn’t tobacco where we just want to get rid of a product. This is really complicated . . . If the changes aren’t science-based we could not do any good or we could even do harm.” – Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition, Science and Policy in Boston