British geographer Professor John Anthony Allan: measuring the water embodied in food


prof JA Allen - waterBritish geographer Professor John Anthony Allan, who is based at King’s College London has received an award from the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation for his work on water security.

Prince Albert said that Prof Allan had “opened up new perspectives in the management of water stocks and their trade, in particular in regions suffering from [water] shortage, such as the Middle East.

He introduced the idea of “virtual” water, whereby the amount of water used in food production can be traded when that food is imported or exported. The virtual water market accounts for all of the water embodied in the production of food.

Prof Allan explained during his acceptance speech, “it takes 1,000 tonnes of water to raise a tonne of wheat, and it takes 16,000 to raise a tonne of beef”.

water footprint

He sees the ultimate aim of a global market for virtual water as being for water-intensive commodities to be traded from places where they are economically viable to produce, to more water-scarce places where they are not.

At present there is water intensive sugar-growing in some water-scarce regions of India and the product is exported to countries with good rainfall, such as Britain..

Prof. Allan, who is based at King’s College London, said: “Accountants could save the world if we enable them to put accounting rules into and reporting rules into this food supply chain, which looks as if it’s a market, but it has no accounting rules or reporting rules for water”.


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