Cattle production for exports in water-abundant areas: The case of Finland

Elina Lehikoinen, Tuure Parviainen, Juha Helenius, Mika Jalava, Arto O. Salonen, Matti Kummu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Water scarcity is a severe global threat, and it will only become more critical with a growing and wealthier population. Annually, considerable volumes of water are transferred virtually through the global food system to secure nations' food supply and to diversify diets. Our objective is to assess, whether specializing water-intensive production for exports in areas with an abundance of natural resources, would contribute to globally resource-efficient food production. We calculated Finland's virtual water net export potential (four scenarios) by reallocating the present underutilized agricultural land and combining that with a domestic diet change (three scenarios) to maximize the exports of cattle products. Assessed scenarios indicate that the greatest potential to net export virtual water (3.7 billion m 3 year -1 , 25-time increase to current) was achieved when local production was maximized with domestic and exported feed, and bovine meat consumption in Finland was replaced with a vegetarian substitute. This corresponds to annual virtual water consumption for food of about 3.6 million global citizens (assuming 1032 m 3 cap -1 year -1 ). Therefore our results suggest, that optimizing water-intensive production to water-rich areas, has a significant impact on global water savings. In addition, increasing exports from such areas by decreasing the domestic demand for water-intensive products to meet the nutrition recommendation levels, saves water resources.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1075
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 19 Feb 2019
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Cattle production
  • Diet change
  • Land use
  • Reallocation
  • Trade
  • Virtual water
  • Water-intensive products


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