Water for Food

The folly of one size fits all

If all politics are local, that is especially the case for anything involving water.

A “cookie-cutter” approach to growing more food using less water simply won’t work, Roberto Lenton said during his opening remarks today (May 30).

Ruth Meinzen-Dick also warned against looking for “a magic panacea” to solve water problems. She said she’s observed a temptation for people to assume that what worked for small farms in South Asia also will work in Sub-Saharan Africa. That simply isn’t the case.

Local context matters. Consider the four producers on the Agricultural Producers Panel:

  • Guillermo Bellotini manages one of the largest irrigated farms in Argentina.
  • April Hemmes operates a 1,000-acre rainfed farm in Iowa. Quantity of water isn’t an issue, but maintaining water quality is.
  • Brandon Hunnicutt has transitioned his Nebraska corn and soybean farm from using traditional methods of cultivation and irrigation to one that uses cutting-edge technology to maximize productivity.
  • Mridula Sharma is relatively new to farming in India and also is interested in conserving soil and water as well as improving cultivation methods.

Even within this top-notch group of farmers, many factors influence how each farms: geography, climate, culture and government policies. The idea that a single management practice, or new technology, or government policy will help us reach the goal of feeding the world’s 2050 population is folly.

Where does that leave scientists, educators and policymakers?

Understanding producers’ concerns is a start. “You cannot solve global issues if you don’t understand the field level,” Lenton said.

This is an especially important point when considering how to regulate the use of “blue” water pumped from aquifers, rivers, lakes and dams. In areas that aren’t as fortunate to receive abundant “green” water from rainfall, solutions for

allocating blue water equitably and without environmental harm are critical. Malin Falkenmark reminded us that we must balance the water equation by maximizing agricultural production in areas in which green water is abundant.

As this week’s discussion unfold, let’s remember that solving global problems begins with addressing them locally.


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