The role of small-scale agriculture in water consumption, water scarcity, and virtual water flows

Han Su

Research output: ThesisPhD Thesis - Research UT, graduation UT

33 Downloads (Pure)


Keeping water consumption within planetary boundaries is critical for sustainable development. However, in many regions around the world, water consumption has transgressed the sustainable level, leading to water scarcity. About 4 billion people are affected by water scarcity at least one month during a year. The food sector, especially crop production, is the major contributor to water consumption. There is abundant evidence showing the relationship between water and food from production and consumption perspectives, however, the heterogeneity of farms in this relationship remains largely unexplored. There are more than 600 million farms around the world. Almost 80% of farms are smaller than 2 ha and collectively operate just over 5% of cropland; Fewer than one in a hundred farms are larger than 100 ha, but these large farms operate more than 70% of global cropland. Small-scale and large-scale agriculture often have different crop structures, farming systems, decision-making patterns, and socioeconomic resources, which are the key contexts to understand the water and food relationship.
This research aims to bring farm size as a context into the global water and food relationship, to reveal the roles of small-scale and large-scale agriculture in water consumption, water scarcity, and virtual water flows. It starts with knowing better what is known, i.e., how context in general plays a role in water and food relationship identification. Then, it is followed by three steps: (i) mapping different sizes of farms; (ii) estimating the geographic distribution of small-scale and large-scale agriculture across water-scarce and water-abundant regions, as well as their respective water consumption ; and (iii) estimating small-scale agriculture’s and large-scale agriculture’s contributions to global virtual water flows.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Twente
  • Krol, Maarten S., Supervisor
  • Hogeboom, Rick, Co-Supervisor
Award date16 May 2024
Place of PublicationEnschede
Print ISBNs 978-90-365-6054-2
Electronic ISBNs978-90-365-6055-9
Publication statusPublished - 16 May 2024


  • Water footprint
  • Smallholders
  • Water consumption
  • Virtual water flows
  • Water scarcity


Dive into the research topics of 'The role of small-scale agriculture in water consumption, water scarcity, and virtual water flows'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this