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World Water Day: chocolate, cocoa and coffee at the top of footprint

Capri: "However, we need local data, correctly measured, which take into account the concept of water shortage and need for ecosystems"

Today is celebrated throughout the World Water Day, that is the world day established by the UN in 1992 to reflect on the efficient use of this precious resource. Agricultural production is obviously one of the major human activities to use water and it is good that consumers are increasingly informed about the environmental impacts of the products they buy.

The data for the calculation of the water footprint usually cited are taken from the studies by Mekonnen and Hoekstra and date back to 2010-11, but even if dated they are useful for drawing up a ranking of consumption, such as that widely used by the Water Footprint Network (https: // The most cited in general are the data concerning meat (beef in particular), but scrolling the ranking reveals some surprises.

The most impactful product of all is cocoa butter, which has a water footprint of 34,000 liters per kg, followed by cocoa mass (24,000 l / kg) and chocolate (17,196 l / kg), followed by roasted coffee which has a water footprint of 18,900 liters per kg. Then comes the beef, but there is also the surprise of tea, which has a significant water footprint per kg. 8,860 liters of water, more than pork ( 5,590 l / kg) and even double that of chicken equal to 4,325 l / kg.

However, these data must be read carefully. The Water Footprint is given by the sum of 3 contributions partly real and partly virtual, namely the blue water (the one actually used), the green water (the evotranspiration one) and the gray water, i.e. those virtually necessary for purification. For many crops, green water is the most significant and it would be fair to remove it from the total calculation. Indeed, for meat this component is by far the most significant, making up 80-90% of the total.

"But the main problem is not posed by the results of the Water Footprint Network", explains prof. Ettore Capri, professor of the Catholic University of Piacenza and director of the Opera center, "but from the use made of it. Each database has a purpose of use: if we use generalist databases created on international averages, these are destined to preliminary estimates, to elementary didactic comparisons, to sensitize citizens. Be careful, therefore, to use them as political decision-making tools or as entrepreneurial management tools where it is necessary to have local data, correctly measured, which take into account the concept of water shortage and need of ecosystems. The water footprint is different according to the qualitative and quantitative water availability of the territories. The footprint is different according to the production regulations, the packaging, the average life of the food product. Italian food biodiversity is such that there would like a database for each made in Italy product, for each IGP, PDO, controlled supply chain, for a specific location from north to south and from the plains to the alps. This is what we are doing with wine, when it is certified sustainable. This is what I expect will happen in the next few years also for oil and other crops and animal production thanks to the CAP and the interventions of our government".

"So let's give the data the right value. Like the water we want clean and transparent: we calculate the water footprint correctly (there are ISO standards for this), we use the correct units of measurement and we learn to break it down into the blue components natural resources), green (renewable share of the water cycle), gray (polluting share from agricultural activities). We will discover that the data change further downwards and - concludes Capri - if human behavior is correct (use of good practices agricultural), the important components from the ecological point of view - blue and gray - will be reduced to values that are certainly lower than the water footprint of our daily urban life".

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EFA News - European Food Agency