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Coffee and footprints

Wednesday, March 29, 2017 1:19
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(Before It's News)

Read aguanomics for the world’s best analysis of the politics and economics of water Paul over at Daily Coffee News emailed me asking what I have to say about water and coffee, i.e., “do we have to worry about the water necessary to grow our coffee” (my words)?

The short answer is: No. Coffee is no different from any source of demand on water sources. The real question is how large those demands are compared to available (sustainable) supplies.

The long answer is that water needs to be managed into two buckets: water for all of us (“social/environmental water”) and water for some of us (“private/economic water”).

This starting point means that “we” need to decide how much water to leave in the environment first. That quantity will be lower in poorer places where people want to turn water into money. In richer places, people are willing to pay more for food, landscaping, etc. because they value water in the environment (a healthy environment). In poorer places, people would rather eat.

Once you decide how much to set aside for social uses, then the rest of the water is devoted to producing private value via drinking, washing, producing goods, growing crops, etc.

Coffee is higher in that priority list in the places where coffee is grown because water for coffee produces more value (income) than, say, water for potatoes or corn. That means that water use in coffee growing regions may remain high in times of water scarcity because farmers prefer to use water for coffee (after drinking and washing) while leaving less for the environment or for growing food crops. That’s because they can sell the coffee for money to buy food, rather than growing the food directly. Is this a dumb idea (hey, they can grow food!)? No, because it’s better/easier to grow coffee in some places than in others. Thus, it’s better to grow coffee.

What’s this have to do with footprinting? Not much. As Paul points out, footprinting is not useful in many dimensions.

Bottom Line The footprint is irrelevant compared to social priorities and getting the most value out of the water you have.


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