Possible pathways and tensions in the food and water nexus

R. Quentin Grafton*, John Williams, Qiang Jiang

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    41 Citations (Scopus)


    “Bottom-up” field-based, crop-hydrological models are used to estimate food production and irrigation water extractions under multiple scenarios of water and nitrogen use and crop yield increases from 2010 to 2050 for 19 countries. The results show: (1) a food deficit before 2050 under a worst case climate change scenario in terms of annual crop yield improvement; (2) substantial water deficits, as a result of irrigation, for major food-producing countries that will prevent these nations from meeting their domestic food requirements in the absence of investments in water infrastructure or food imports; and (3) a plateau in terms of crop food production associated with increased water extractions given no further increase in the current area of irrigated agriculture. Possible pathways to respond to the tensions in the food–water nexus are evaluated and include: (1) higher water productivity; (2) food trade; (3) improvements in both crop yield and “sustainable” total factor productivity; (4) greater investment in water infrastructure; and (5) integrative policies and decision processes. Without a combination of some, or all, of these possible pathways, appropriately adapted to bio-physical and socio-economic circumstances, the world faces grave risks in food and water security out to 2050.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)449-462
    Number of pages14
    JournalEarth's Future
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2017


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