Nut production ‘needs to occur in a water-sustainable way’: study

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Getty/EleonaoraGrigorjeva
Image: Getty/EleonaoraGrigorjeva

Related tags: Nuts, Cashew, Peanut, Water crisis

A study has investigated the water footprints of different types of nuts globally and identified options for water-sustainable nut production.

The benefits of nuts as sources of nutrients and protein are well-known. But any increase in nut production, as per the recommendations of the infamous EAT-Lancet reference diet, must take into account water sustainability, warns a study which claims that worldwide, 74% of irrigated nuts are produced under water stress.

In a new publication in the journal Global Food Security​, scientists from the JRC, the University of Twente and the University of Nebraska quantified the amount of global irrigated nut production under water stress.

They found that 74% of irrigated nuts are produced under water stress (of which 63% are under severe water stress), throughout many regions of the world, most notably in India, China, Pakistan, the Middle East, the Mediterranean region and the US.

Groundnuts account for the largest quantity (8.7 million tons per year) produced under water stress, with hotspots in China and India, the researchers discovered.

Of the treenuts, almonds account for the largest quantity (1 million tons per year) produced under water stress, of which 60% are produced in California, followed by walnuts (0.67 tons per year), pistachios (0.36 tons per year) and hazelnuts (0.28 tons per year).

In the Mediterranean basin, large amounts of almonds and hazelnuts are produced under water stress, including in Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Israel, Lebanon, Libya, Tunisia and Morocco.

11-fold increase global treenut production needed to satisfy EAT-Lancet diet

The authors calculated that, if the global population in 2050 were to adhere to the recommendations of the EAT-Lancet reference diet, global treenut production would have to increase more than 11-fold, and groundnut production almost 7-fold.

As many nuts are already being produced under water stress, such an increase in production should be done in a water-sustainable way.

“The EAT-Lancet universal healthy reference diet recommends an increase in the consumption of healthy foods, among which treenuts and groundnuts. Both are, however, water-intensive products, with a large water footprint (WF) per unit of mass and protein and already today contribute to blue water stress in different parts of the world​,” the study authors wrote.

“The envisaged massive required increase in nut production to feed a global population with this reference diet, needs to occur in a water-sustainable way.”

The authors identified considerations to address in order to ensure water-sustainable nut production:

  • Choice of nut type, as some types (such as cashew nuts) are more water-intensive than others (such as peanuts)
  • Sustainable intensification of nut production to attain nut type water footprint benchmarks, thereby optimally using available blue and green water resources
  • Choice of where to produce nuts
  • Integrated Water Resources Management
  • Reduction in food loss and waste along the nut supply chain


‘Treenuts and groundnuts in the EAT-Lancet reference diet: Concerns regarding sustainable water use’

Global Food Security

Authors: Davy Vanhama​, Mesfin M.Mekonnenb​, Arjen Y.Hoekstracd


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