Water footprint research to help with water sustainability

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LERATO LELIA

More research still needs to be done on the water footprint in the food value chain, which measures the volume of freshwater (direct and indirect) that is used in food production. According to Gerhard Backeberg from the water research commission (WRC), there is a gap in knowledge about how much water is used in the food value chain. There is evidence on how much is used on the farm level but not throughout the whole chain of produce.

Backeberg was addressing the water footprint symposium at the University of the Free State (UFS) on Wednesday (3 September) on the research that was started in 2011 with a literature review. He added that the research on the water footprint of selected vegetable and food crops that was started last year is still in the early phase and could take ten to fifteen years to complete.

“We started with the water footprints for fruit and vegetables because they are produced under irrigation. The idea is to look at the water footprint of both blue and green water. As a start we want to have an indication of the major groupings of crops and that will guide us on what further research should be done. Based on past experience we know that it will take us two to three cycles of research before we know that we have knowledge that is useful for application,” said Backeberg.

The symposium was aimed at discussions around the impact that food production had on water resources as well as to highlight the relevance of water footprint assessments in informing sustainable water use and management. As well as hopes of future provision of knowledge and information about the water footprint of products and fresh produce which might influence consumer buying decision making.