The water footprints of Morocco and the Netherlands: Global water use as a result of domestic consumption of agricultural commodities

Arjen Ysbert Hoekstra, Ashok Chapagain

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The volume of international trade in agricultural commodities is increasing faster than the global volume of production, which is an indicator of growing international dependencies in the area of food supply. Although less obvious, it also implies growing international dependencies in the field of water supply. By importing food, countries also import water in virtual form. The aim of the paper is to assess the water footprints of Morocco, a semi-arid/arid country, and the Netherlands, a humid country. The water footprint of a country is defined as the volume of water used for the production of the goods and services consumed by the inhabitants of the country. The internal water footprint is the volume of water used from domestic water resources; the external water footprint is the volume of water used in other countries to produce goods and services imported and consumed by the inhabitants of the country. The study shows that both Morocco and the Netherlands import more water in virtual form (in the form of water-intensive agricultural commodities) than they export, which makes them dependent on water resources elsewhere in the world. The water footprint calculations show that Morocco depends for 14% on water resources outside its own borders, while the Netherlands depend on foreign water resources for 95%. It is shown that international trade can result in global water saving when a water-intensive commodity is traded from an area where it is produced with high water productivity to an area with lower water productivity. If Morocco had to domestically produce the products that are now imported from the Netherlands, it would require 780 million m3/year. However, the imported products from the Netherlands were actually produced with only 140 million m3/year, which implies a global water saving of 640 million m3/year.
Original languageUndefined
Pages (from-to)143-151
JournalEcological economics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • Water saving
  • Trade
  • Water footprint
  • METIS-230874
  • Agriculture
  • Virtual water
  • IR-58350

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