Historical simulation of maize water footprints with a new global gridded crop model ACEA

Oleksandr Mialyk*, Joep F. Schyns, Martijn J. Booij, Rick J. Hogeboom

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

Crop water productivity is a key element of water and food security in the world and can be quantified by the water footprint (WF). Previous studies have looked at the spatially explicit distribution of crop WFs, but little is known about their temporal dynamics. Here, we present AquaCrop-Earth@lternatives (ACEA), a new process-based global gridded crop model that can simulate three consumptive WF components: green (WFg), blue from irrigation (WFbi), and blue from capillary rise (WFbc). The model is applied to analyse global maize production in 1986-2016 at 5×5ĝ€¯arcmin spatial resolution. Our results show that over the 2012-2016 period, the global average unit WF of maize is 728.0ĝ€¯m3ĝ€¯t-1ĝ€¯yr-1 (91.2ĝ€¯% WFg, 7.6ĝ€¯% WFbi, and 1.2ĝ€¯% WFbc), with values varying greatly around the world. Regions with high-input agriculture (e.g. Western Europe and Northern America) show small unit WFs and low interannual variability, while low-input regions show opposite outcomes (e.g. Middle and Eastern Africa). From 1986 to 2016, the global average unit WF reduced by a third, mainly due to the historical increase in maize yields. However, due to the rapid expansion of rainfed and irrigated areas, the global WF of maize production increased by half, peaking at 768.3×109ĝ€¯m3ĝ€¯yr-1 in 2016. As many regions still have a high potential in closing yield gaps, unit WFs are likely to reduce further. Simultaneously, humanity's rising demand for food and biofuels may further expand maize areas and hence increase WFs of production. Thus, it is important to address the sustainability and purpose of maize production, especially in those regions where it might endanger ecosystems and human livelihoods.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)923-940
Number of pages18
JournalHydrology and earth system sciences
Volume26
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 18 Feb 2022

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