Virtual water: Virtuous impact? : the unsteady state of virtual water

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“Virtual water,” water needed for crop production, is now being mainstreamed in the water policy world. Relying on virtual water in the form of food imports is increasingly recommended as good policy for water-scarce areas. Virtual water globalizes discussions on water scarcity, ecological sustainability, food security and consumption. Presently the concept is creating much noise in the water and food policy world, which contributes to its politicization. We will argue that the virtual water debate is also a “real water” and food and agricultural policy debate and hence has political effects. Decisions about food strategies and resource allocation play out on the national political economy, benefiting some while harming others. Therefore, a policy choice for virtual water is not politically neutral. “Real¿water” interventions are, likewise, inspired by economic as well as political considerations like control of the countryside, geopolitical strategy, and food sovereignty (independence from international political conditionality and market uncertainties). To illustrate these ideas, we look into case studies of Egypt and the State of Punjab in India. In India, a debate on the merits and demerits of a virtual water strategy is now emerging. In Egypt, which switched to food imports in the early 1970s, a long-standing taboo on debating virtual water is now being relaxed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)257-270
JournalAgriculture and Human Values
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • food

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