Water scarcity is a global challenge, especially in arid regions, including Middle Eastern and North African countries. The distribution of water around the earth is not even. Trading water in the form of an embedded commodity, known as the water footprint (WF), from water-abundant regions to water-scarce regions, is a viable solution to water scarcity problems. Agricultural products account for approximately 85% of the earth’s total WF, indicating that importing water-intense crops, such as cereal crops, can partially solve the local water scarcity problem. This study investigated water, energy, and food nexus dynamics for the trades of a few major crops, specifically considering Saudi Arabia. It analyzed the trade of crops and its impact on WF, energy, and carbon dioxide (CO2 ) emission savings. The findings revealed that importing major cereal crops to Saudi Arabia could significantly reduce the local WF. The imports of wheat, maize, rice, and barley reduced approximately 24 billion m3 per year of consumable WF (i.e., blue and green water footprint) in the global scale. Similarly, the trade of major crops had a significant impact on energy and CO2 emission savings. The energy savings from the wheat, maize, and barley trades in Saudi Arabia was estimated to be approximately 9 billion kWh. It also saved about 7 million tons per year of CO2 emissions. The trades of cereal crops in Saudi Arabia reduced water consumption, energy usage, and CO2 emissions significantly.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3494
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments: The authors gratefully acknowledge the support of King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in conducting this research.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.


  • agricultural product
  • carbon dioxide emission
  • energy footprint
  • water footprint
  • water-energy-food nexus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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