The economic impact of more sustainable water use in agriculture: A computable general equilibrium analysis
Agriculture is the largest consumer of freshwater resources – around 70 percent of all freshwater withdrawals are used for food production. These agricultural products are traded internationally. A full understanding of water use is, therefore, impossible without understanding the international market for food and related products, such as textiles. Based on the global general equilibrium model GTAP-W, we offer a method for investigating the role of green (rain) and blue (irrigation) water resources in agriculture and within the context of international trade. We use future projections of allowable water withdrawals for surface water and groundwater to define two alternative water management scenarios. The first scenario explores a deterioration of current trends and policies in the water sector (water crisis scenario). The second scenario assumes an improvement in policies and trends in the water sector and eliminates groundwater overdraft world-wide, increasing water allocation for the environment (sustainable water use scenario). In both scenarios, welfare gains or losses are not only associated with changes in agricultural water consumption. Under the water crisis scenario, welfare not only rises for regions where water consumption increases (China, South East Asia and the USA). Welfare gains are considerable for Japan and South Korea, Southeast Asia and Western Europe as well. These regions benefit from higher levels of irrigated production and lower food prices. Alternatively, under the sustainable water use scenario, welfare losses not only affect regions where overdrafting is occurring. Welfare decreases in other regions as well. These results indicate that, for water use, there is a clear trade-off between economic welfare and environmental sustainability.