California’s Drought Highlights Asia’s Virtual Water Trade

May 5, 2015

We have blogged previously about the impact of the virtual water trade - Asia’s consumption of water-intensive imports due to its own problems of water scarcity - and California’s recent drought is a direct consequence of this, with the humble almond at the centre of the issue.

 

California’s Drought Situation & Chief Almond Growing Areas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: Mother Jones: It Takes How Much Water to Grow an Almond?, Feb 24, 2014

 

California is the world’s largest producer of almonds (82% of global production) and is experiencing   one of its most severe droughts on record. To a large extent, these two factors are interlinked. According to Mother Jones, one almond requires approximately1.1 gallons of water to grow, making a huge demand for water in a state that produced 1.88 billion pounds of almonds in 2013.

 

 

Asia has emerged as the main consumer of US almonds in recent years, a factor that is putting water resources in the US, particularly California, under extreme stress. From 2009 to 2013, Asian Pacific almond imports from California increased 60% to 449 million pounds, overtaking the European market and making the region the second largest consumer after the US domestic market.

 

Consumption of US Almonds, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: Almond Board of California, 2013 Almanac

 

The trend of increased Asian consumption is firing the broader development of the ‘virtual water trade,’ which effectively means that Asia imports water intensive products to compensate for its own problems of water scarcity. Since the causal factors of this trend - burgeoning urban populations, declining water reservoirs and expanding consumer demand - are long-term trends driving Asia’s development, it is highly likely that the world will continue to see episodes of stress in resource supply chains similar to those currently being experienced in California. 

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