Trade in virtual water, the substitution of the use of scarce water resources for agricultural production by importing food from water-rich countries has been said to be a potential solution to water crises and water conflicts throughout water-stressed regions worldwide. While trade in foodstuffs may have helped to alleviate water stress in parts of the Middle East and Northern Africa and provides an efficient response to the periodic drought occurrences, it has to be doubted whether virtual water trade is a water governance option that can be applied in many countries of the South. As examples from the West African Volta River Basin suggest, cultural values focussing on agricultural and livestock production, socio-economic factors such as a low level of education and a strong dependency of livelihoods on subsistence agriculture, weak governments that are unable to trigger and finance large-scale reform processes, as well as dysfunctional and unfair market systems, largely limit the widespread application of virtual water trade.

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