Climate change and socio-economic development place an increasing pressure on essential natural resources, such as arable land and freshwater. The international food trade can save water globally by redistributing commodities produced relatively more water-efficiently. We focus on the global virtual water trade network associated with international staple food trade from 1986–2008. This study aims to determine which variables control the network's structure and temporal evolution, and to estimate changes in the network under future scenarios. Our fitness model reproduces both the topological and weighted characteristics of the network for the whole period. Undirected and directed network properties are well reproduced in each year, assuming as sole controls each nation's GDP, mean annual rainfall, agricultural area and population. The future structure of the network is estimated using climate and socio-economic projections, showing that volumes of virtual water traded will become increasingly heterogeneous and the importance of dominant importing nations will further strengthen.