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Keywords:

  • blue water;
  • food trade;
  • green water;
  • virtual water;
  • water efficiency;
  • water saving

[1] Global food security increasingly relies on the trade of food commodities. Freshwater resources are essential to agricultural production and are thus embodied in the trade of food commodities, referred to as “virtual water trade.” Agricultural production predominantly relies on rainwater (i.e., “green water”), though irrigation (i.e., “blue water”) does play an important role. These different sources of water have distinctly different opportunity costs, which may be reflected in the way these resources are traded. Thus, the temporal dynamics of the virtual water trade networks from these distinct water sources require characterization. We find that 42 × 109 m3 blue and 310 × 109 m3 green water was traded in 1986, growing to 78 × 109 m3 blue and 594 × 109 m3 green water traded in 2008. Three nations dominate the export of green water resources: the USA, Argentina, and Brazil. As a country increases its export trade partners it tends to export relatively more blue water. However, as a country increases its import trade partners it does not preferentially import water from a specific source. The amount of virtual water that a country imports by increasing its import trade partners has been decreasing over time, with the exception of the soy trade. Both blue and green virtual water networks are efficient: 119 × 109 m3 blue and 105 × 109 m3 green water were saved in 2008. Importantly, trade has been increasingly saving water over time, due to the intensification of crop trade on more water-efficient links.