What is Virtual Water?

Meaning of Virtual Water

Virtual water is the amount of water used in the production of the various products we consume on a daily basis.

It is in the product, not only in the visible , physical sense, but also in the “ virtual ” sense, considering the water necessary for the production processes . It is an indirect measure of the water resources consumed by a good.

It does not mean that a product has a reservoir with this stored water, but rather that this water must be spent in the production of that product.


The champion in water consumption for production is agriculture, especially livestock. One of the most used arguments in environmental circles is the need to reduce meat consumption. 

Along with other livestock inputs to reduce the environmental impact caused by this large consumption of water.

This argument is taken to its highest consequences by vegetarian and vegan groups who preach abstinence from the consumption of meat (and other animal inputs, in the case of strict vegetarians and vegans).


Along with other reasons, with the aim of ending the production of livestock and, consequently, the end of the environmental damage caused by it.

It is easy to understand the greater presence of virtual water in livestock than in agriculture. Since to raise animals it is necessary to feed these animals with vegetables and / or other animals (which in turn will need to be fed with vegetables).

Livestock have the virtual water from farming (since the vegetables that will feed the animals need to be planted) and added to their own water consumption (after all, animals not only eat, but also drink water, also considering possible contamination of rivers and groundwater with production residues).

However, virtual water is not only found in the primary sector of the economy (agriculture and extraction).

It is also present in industrial inputs that use water in their production. Some industrial products depend on the use of water not only in the composition of the product itself, but also in washing, cooling, etc.

Not to mention the water pollution caused by the most diverse industries. The industry is the one that spends the most water in the production of its goods, just after agriculture.

Due to the international market, one country often consumes abundant water from another, especially if we consider virtual water.

The countries that export agricultural inputs, have a prominent presence in this market in the world (especially with the export of meat), are the main exporters of virtual water .

It is no coincidence that countries with abundant water are also countries that export virtual water in their products.

This may have to be reconsidered when fresh and drinkable water becomes an increasingly scarce commodity in the world.

Importance of Virtual Water

Current environmental needs, as well as those that are about to prevail in the not too distant future, require the reformulation of processes and conscious consumption as a means of reducing water waste, especially in the form of virtual water.

The development of less polluting technologies , the reduction or abstention of certain products with a high percentage of virtual water.

The reduction of waste, are ways of seeking a more rational use of water . We must remember that without water, human life is impossible and without it nothing can be produced, so it is urgent to rethink the way we consume water today.

10 Examples of Virtual Water

This list shows the amount of virtual water for some products . However, the values ​​measured so far vary depending on the cultivation method, evaluation method, etc.

It is important to take into account the order of magnitude of them: it is what gives relevance to the topic.

Liters of water needed per kg of food produced.

  • Product – Virtual Water
  • Rice – 1,400 to 3,600
  • Oats – 2,374
  • Poultry / Chicken – 2,800 to 4,500
  • Olive oil – 11,350
  • Olive – 2,500
  • Banana – 499
  • Pope – 105 to 160
  • Beet – 193
  • Sugarcane – 318
  • Beef – 13,500 to 20,700
  • Pig – 4,600 to 5,900
  • Orange and other citrus – 378
  • Milk – 560 to 865
  • Butter – 18,000
  • Corn – 450 to 1,600
  • Soybean oil – 5405
  • Eggs – 2,700 to 4,700
  • Cheese – 5,280
  • Soybeans – 2,300 to 2,750
  • Tomato – 105
  • Wheat – 1,150 to 2,000
  • Grape – 455

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