Water Use & Pollution

Growing competition for water supplies, combined with climate change and water pollution, threaten the food sector’s water security and contribute to a water availability threat that the World Economic Forum recently ranked as the world’s “top global risk.” Agricultural production is the most water intensive activity , consuming roughly 70 percent of the world’s freshwater.  Moreover, one-third of the world’s food is produced in areas of high or extremely high “water stress” or competition.  

Commodity Exposure to Water Use & Pollution Issues

Producing food is the most water-intensive activity on the planet. 

Water Use: Irrigating crops and raising animals consumes roughly 70 percent of the world’s freshwater  and one third of the world’s agricultural production is grown in areas of high or extremely high “water stress” or competition. About 21 percent of rain-fed production and 56 percent of the world’s irrigated crop production takes place in high stress regions. An estimated 20 percent of the Earth’s groundwater basins are being over-exploited, many of them in regions of significant agricultural importance, including California and the Midwest’s Ogalalla Aquifer. 

Water Pollution: Run-off of fertilizer, manure and pesticides are major sources of water pollution in most regions of the world.  Global chemical fertilizer use, which hit 180 million tons in 2012, has increased 500 percent over the past 50 years, with nitrogen alone growing by 800 percent. Much of this fertilizer runs off into waterways, polluting rivers, groundwater and oceans. The number of hypoxic “dead zones” linked to fertilizer run-off has increased exponentially since the 1960s, affecting more than 400 aquatic ecosystems worldwide, including the Gulf of Mexico and South China Sea. According to the EPA, nutrient pollution is the most significant water quality challenge in the United States, which spends an estimated $4.8 billion annually treating nitrogen pollution.