Water for Food Blog
By 2050, the planet’s population is expected to reach nine billion people. Ensuring that these additional billions have access to enough food for a healthy, active life while reducing pressure on increasingly scarce and threatened water resources is one of the of the greatest challenges of the 21st century.
In the Water for Food Blog, we examine the issues, explore current trends and highlight developments here in Nebraska and around the world.
Visit us often to go inside the latest research, read notes from the field, hear about what’s working and what isn’t, browse our infographics and videos, and keep up to date on what’s new at the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute at the University of Nebraska.
Welcome! We encourage your participation as we explore the future of water for food.
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Water for Food Global Conference speakers emphasize partnership roles, responsibilities to make lasting impact
May 2, 2016
“I’m an incredible believer in the power of partnerships,” said plenary speaker Pat Mulroy, of the Brookings Institute. The value of catalytic collaborations – the theme of the 2016 Global Water for Food Conference – was evident throughout the second day. Mulroy described the incredible partnership that led to preventing devastating water shortages in southwestern… [Read More]
April 24, 2016
“If you want a Green Revolution for Africa, you need to start with water,” Melissa Ho, of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, told attendees on the first day of the 2016 Global Water for Food Conference. WFI, KickStart-International and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in association with the Water, Land and Ecosystems Program of the… [Read More]
April 23, 2016
By Meredith Giordano, principal researcher and advisor for research strategy and management, International Water Management Institute; acting director, CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems; Washington, D.C. Nearly four years ago, researchers documented for the first time how farmer-led irrigation in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia is transforming food security at an astonishing scale…. [Read More]
By Karen G. Villholth, principal researcher and Yvan Altchenko, senior researcher – hydrogeologist International Water Management Institute; Pretoria, South Africa Sub Saharan Africa is currently experiencing a food crisis due to drought. The World Food Program estimates that 10 million people in the region will require food aid in the coming year. How can water… [Read More]
April 22, 2016
By James Garza, Water for Food Institute student intern and global studies major at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln A team of Water for Food Institute staff and four student interns traveled to Amman, Jordan March 18-26 to learn first-hand about the impacts of the Syrian crisis on neighboring countries and the difficulties local governments face… [Read More]
April 21, 2016
By Madison Thorn, Water for Food Institute student intern and global studies major at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln A team of Water for Food Institute staff and four student interns traveled to Amman, Jordan March 18-26 to learn first-hand about the impacts of the Syrian crisis on neighboring countries and the difficulties local governments face… [Read More]
April 15, 2016
By Morgan Spiehs, student intern, Water for Food Institute; senior news-editorial and women’s and gender studies major; University of Nebraska–Lincoln A team of Water for Food Institute staff and four student interns traveled to Amman, Jordan March 18-26 to learn first-hand about the impacts of the Syrian crisis on neighboring countries and the difficulties local… [Read More]
Building a holistic team – partnerships to mitigate the impact of climate change on water and food security and health
April 14, 2016
By Elizabeth VanWormer, Water for Food Institute Faculty Fellow and an assistant professor of practice in the School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and the School of Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. When the warm summer rain falls in Nebraska, three kids in our neighborhood take to the street to construct dams… [Read More]
March 31, 2016
By Patrice C. McMahon, Water for Food Institute Faculty Fellow and associate professor in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Department of Political Science Like many African countries, Ethiopia is currently experiencing its worst drought in almost a century. Ten million people are in need of food aid, while more than 75 percent of the population is… [Read More]
March 14, 2016
Since 2013, University of Nebraska-Lincoln hydrogeologist and Water for Food Institute Faculty Fellow Vitaly Zlotnik has led efforts at UNL to develop solutions to complex water issues in the Middle East, a region rife with political conflict and environmental challenges. He provided a keynote address at the 2016 International Water Conference at Sultan Qaboos University… [Read More]
February 8, 2016
The University of Nebraska Water Sciences Laboratory, part of the Nebraska Water Center and part of the Daugherty Water for Food Institute, is celebrating its Silver Anniversary this year. The lab is a cutting edge core research facility, located on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus, that provides a range of technical services and expertise in… [Read More]
January 21, 2016
Working with our numerous Faculty Fellows and recently appointed Global Fellows, we enjoyed a year of tremendous progress in 2015, both globally and locally, and look forward to many more advancements and changes in 2016. Our work around the globe increased dramatically in 2015. For example, we initiated a USAID-funded project with several key partners… [Read More]
January 6, 2016
Why go gaga about GYGA – the Global Yield Gap Atlas? By: Njeri Okono, communications manager for Africa, International Center for Maize and Wheat Improvement (CIMMYT) This blog originally appeared on the CIMMYT website Dec. 30, 2015. Because GYGA is a crucial pointer to where the greatest gains in food production can be made, and… [Read More]
January 4, 2016
By: Brianna Brown, research assistant, Crisis “To me, it became a lot more practical to deal with water as entity [instead of] differentiated from groundwater or surface water. If you think you recognize at the start that you simply were handling water, you weren’t handling groundwater and surface water, you simply were managing your water,… [Read More]
December 16, 2015
By climatologist Donald A. Wilhite, Water for Food Institute Faculty Fellow and professor in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln School of Natural Resources The signing of the International Climate Agreement at the 21st annual U.N. climate conference (COP21) in Paris Dec. 13, by 195 countries represents a historical moment and one that we should all be… [Read More]
November 11, 2015
About the author: Jimmy O’Keeffe is a PhD student in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Imperial College, London. His research focuses on modelling and understanding the small- and large-scale impacts of agricultural water use in part of the vast Indo-Gangetic Plain in India. Jimmy is working with Nick Brozovic, director of policy, and recently spent… [Read More]
November 5, 2015
This summer two undergraduate interns worked on projects associated with the Platte Basin Timelapse Project with funding in part from the Water for Food Institute. The students provided the following blog postings to showcase some of their experiences. Dream Job: Day One By Carlee Koehler The day started how one would expect when setting off… [Read More]
October 27, 2015
For the second year in a row, the rate of global agricultural productivity growth continues to stagnate, says a report by the Global Harvest Initiative (GHI) released during the World Food Prize conference in Des Moines, Iowa, October 15. The report, with technical support from the Water for Food Institute, states that global agricultural productivity… [Read More]
August 26, 2015
By Paul Noël, Program Associate The “water-energy-food nexus” is a hot topic among researchers at the moment. At the Water for Food Institute, we’ve been working with our partners on a variety of projects to understand the connections between water use, energy use, and agricultural production — and how different management approaches impact the human… [Read More]
August 3, 2015
Many rivers and creeks in the Western United States are over-allocated, with consistently more demand on their waters than is available. This can lead to several issues between competing users, especially in years of drought: transboundary water conflicts, threats to public water supply and perilous conditions for species that depend on river habitats. Various mechanisms have been used to address these challenges, which include interstate compacts, state and federal Endangered Species Acts and local water management institutions. But when these mechanisms are absent or don’t do enough to preserve streamflow, local water trusts and environmental nonprofits have acted to supplement streamflow for wildlife. Read More
August 3, 2015
More than ever, the insights of various disciplines with their unique focal points and methodologies, are required to understand and respond to global security threats. This is particularly true when it comes to new or non-traditional security issues, such as environmental pollution, water scarcity and global warming. These issues not only affect water and food supplies, but they also can directly threaten the livelihoods and well-being of individuals and states. Read More
July 28, 2015
California’s drought has been in the news a lot recently, and one proposed solution is the recently-enacted California Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. What’s often not highlighted in the news is that many other parts of the US and the world have long histories with innovative and effective groundwater management policies. For example, Nebraska’s groundwater management was legislated in the late 1960s, and its unique system of Natural Resources Districts was formed in 1972. Read More
July 24, 2015
Two University of Nebraska- Lincoln graduate students recently completed a two-week international field course through UNESCO-IHE, an international institute for water education based in Delft, The Netherlands. UNESCO-IHE equips graduates with the knowledge, skills and competencies they need to address current and future challenges for sustainable local, regional and global water management, with a particular focus on a development context. Read More
July 16, 2015
This summer’s Water and Natural Resources Tour included nearly 70 participants, from college students to retired farmers, and most with a firm background in water quality and quantity issues – except for me. As a 19-year-old undergrad student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), I set out with a vague awareness of the water issues facing Nebraska and neighboring state irrigators, but nothing to the extent that was presented on tour. Read More
June 25, 2015
The World Water Congress, organized by the International Water Resources Association (IWRA), is one of the most important global events in the water field. Held every three years since 1973, the Congress provides a single forum for experts in water-related fields from around the world. It allows participants to share experiences and to present new knowledge, research, and developments related to water resources. Read More
June 23, 2015
To feed a world population that is expected to exceed nine billion by 2050 requires an estimated 60 percent increase over current agricultural productivity. Closing the gap between actual and potential crop yield is critical to achieve this goal.
A new report published jointly by the U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization and the Water for Food Institute at the University of Nebraska reviews current methods to assess the productivity of crops and cropping systems worldwide. Read More
May 4, 2015
Water for Food Director of Policy Nick Brozovic led a presentation on “Coping with Drought – Institutional Innovation in Water Management” at the Swedish Royal Academy of Agriculture and Forestry in Stockholm, Sweden, in March. Read More
April 29, 2015
At the 7th World Water Forum in South Korea, many of the world’s top researchers and leaders in the water and food sectors gathered to share ideas and progress toward ensuring a water and secure future. With an expected population growth of 10 billion by 2050, our food production will need to nearly double to meet global demands. Read More
April 23, 2015
We need a bigger table. There will be over 200,000 more people at the global dinner table tonight than were there last night. By 2050, there will be nearly 10 billion people to feed on this planet. But our population is not only growing, it’s growing wealthier, with increasing demand for food — especially meat and dairy products, requiring more agricultural production and water use. As a result of population increases and rising incomes, total food demand will likely double by 2050 (Earth Policy Institute, 2014). Read More
April 15, 2015
DWFI is pleased to participate in the 7th World Water Forum April 12-17 in Daegu and Gyeongbuk, South Korea. This global event is a valuable opportunity to share the University of Nebraska’s leadership in water management and agriculture, and to learn from others as we work together toward a common goal: to ensure we have enough food and water for a population expected to reach 10 billion in the next 35 years. Read More
March 22, 2015
Water is arguably our most precious natural resource, and particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate change, as well as to the increasing demand for food as our global population grows to 9.6 billion by 2050. Economies and incomes are growing, fueling a revolution in global agriculture that will likely result in nearly a doubling of demand for food, feed, fiber and fuel in the next 35 years.
Currently 70 percent of extracted freshwater worldwide is used for agriculture production. In the absence of progress, water use for agriculture is estimated to grow to 89 percent by 2050, which is clearly untenable given other critical water demands. We must take action to improve how we use, conserve and manage our water supply so that future generations have the opportunity to access sufficient and sustainable sources of food and agriculture products. Read More
World Water Day has been observed on 22 March since 1993 when the United Nations General Assembly declared 22 March as “World Day for Water”.Read More
January 16, 2015
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) released a report on the status of the High Plains Aquifer, the largest aquifer in North America and the aquifer that underlies eight states and supplies one-third of the groundwater pumped annually within the United States.
The report highlights that there are some locations in which the High Plains Aquifer has been severely depleted, with the water table dropping more than 150 feet in parts of Kansas and Texas. In other locations, the water levels have remained fairly stable, as is the case in Nebraska. Read More
December 9, 2014
A cosmic-ray neutron rover may sound like something from a science-fiction film, but a University of Nebraska-Lincoln researcher is developing the high-tech tool to help the military better understand the harsh environment in which it operates.
Hydrogeophysicist Trenton Franz is exploring ways to use a soil moisture detector he helped create for agriculture to enable the military to quickly and reliably survey, monitor and map soils. Read More
November 26, 2014
The Mekong River is one of the world’s largest rivers. Its headwaters are in China and it runs south through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and finally, Vietnam, where it empties into the sea through the Mekong Delta, a complex network of smaller rivers. Known as the “Nine Dragons Delta” in Vietnam, the Mekong Delta is home to almost 20 million people whose livelihoods depend on fisheries, aquaculture, and agriculture. Despite the abundance of surface water in the area, there is large-scale groundwater pumping for food production, industry, and household needs, and the number of co-existing and connected groundwater management challenges is staggering. Read More
November 18, 2014
We have more data than ever to help guide agricultural water management, but will it lead to big gains in productivity? Yes, but only if we get the institutional arrangements right.
On a typical farm in the Midwestern U.S., there are few people about. Despite the growing global demand for food, fewer farmers are needed. Increasingly, modern machinery is now fully automated, often run remotely from a computer terminal. Even irrigation systems can be guided by satellite sourced data on groundwater and rainfall. This is fed directly into simple processors, which then drive controls and motors, allowing smart targeting of water resources to produce maximum yields. The systems are highly efficient, hugely productive and part of a continuing trend toward high-tech farming that has guaranteed food security in the West for three generations.
By contrast, in Africa and Asia, a greater proportion of the population rely on agriculture for their livelihoods, but data is often hard to come by. Read More
November 12, 2014
As I write this blog post, I am coming off of a very strong and high-quality dialogue of the 2014 Global Water for Food Conference convened by the University of Nebraska Daugherty Water for Food Institute and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This was the 6th Global Water for Food Conference, but the first to be held outside of Lincoln, Nebraska. It was a rousing success with approximately 275 leaders from 32 countries around the world dialoguing for three days on the thematic topic of “Harnessing the Data Revolution” around water sustainability in agriculture and food. The conference was also supported with sponsorship from Monsanto, Syngenta, the Daugherty Foundation, the Global Water Initiative, and the Nebraska Corn Board. Read More
November 5, 2014
Participating in the 2014 World Food Prize Week in Des Moines, Iowa has me thinking about water and how we can best use this scarce resource to produce more food.
The world’s population is expected to reach 9 to 10 billion by 2050, causing a doubling in food demand. And not only is the population is growing, it’s also becoming more prosperous. As incomes rise, people have the means to eat more meat and dairy products, which require much more grain. At the same time, corn, soybeans and other crops are being diverted to biofuel production, which places additional pressure on food supply. Urban expansion often comes at the expense of prime agricultural land, with only drier, less fertile land to replace it. The result of these trends is an escalating need for agriculture to produce more food, feed, fiber and fuel on a limited supply of good farmland, and intense competition for water resources. Read More
November 3, 2014
Water, data, and agricultural productivity were on the agenda at the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute’s 6th Annual Conference in Seattle, Washington, earlier this month. (The Water for Food Institute is a consultative partner of the Global Harvest Initiative.) Co-hosted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the conference attracted more than 250 participants from 25 countries. In his welcoming remarks, Roberto Lenton, founding executive director of the Daugherty Water for Food Institute, told attendees, “the data revolution can help with the productivity and sustainability of farming systems, both large and small, around the world.” Read More
October 22 2014
The Water for Food Global Conference in Seattle has concluded, and we’re heading back to Nebraska with new ideas and fresh perspectives on the ways in which data has the opportunity to improve water and food security.
But the data itself is only one piece of harnessing the data revolution, as experts made clear throughout three days of presentations and panel discussions. Read More
October 21 2014
The second day of the 2014 Water for Food Global Conference has wrapped. Today, the discussion shifted toward specific tools being used around the world to Harness the Data Revolution. Read More
October 20 2014
Jeff Raikes, former CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and co-founder of the Raikes Foundation, said it’s not hyperbole to say that global society is experiencing a data revolution. But that the revolution has yet to reach agriculture.
It’s not surprising the former Microsoft Corp. executive believes in the power of technology, and in particular Big Data. But it’s his experience as the son of a farmer to focus on how technology can help farmers increase yields, improve their livelihoods and collectively meet the food production needs of the world’s people. Read More
October 19, 2014
The sixth annual Water for Food Global Conference is underway in Seattle, Wash. USA. More than 250 participants and 23 countries are represented at this year’s event, which is focused on the use of data to improve global water and food security. Read More
October 3, 2014
As Nebraska’s climate changes, the state faces significant economic, social and environmental risks. Because the magnitude and speed of projected changes in climate are unprecedented, it’s imperative that we develop strategies now to adapt to the numerous consequences we’ll continue to experience. Climate change is happening on a global scale, but adapting to change must begin at the local level, where climatic impacts are felt. University of Nebraska faculty recently completed a report, “Understanding and Assessing Climate Change: Implications for Nebraska.” The report’s goal is to inform policymakers, natural resource managers and the public about the state of the science on climate change, current projections for ongoing changes over the 21st century, current and potential future impacts and, finally, management and policy implications of these changes. Read More
July 17, 2014
Water remains at the heart of so many conflicts taking place in the world today, particularly in the Middle East, where ethnic and religious tensions exist alongside depleted water resources, uneven access to water and water pollution. Recently, officials even suggested that water may decide the fates of Iraq and Syria as rebels and government forces fight for control of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
Global water security is a topic filled with pessimism. Most academic research, at least in my field of international relations, emphasizes the role that water, environmental degradation and resource scarcity play in aggravating regional and global conflict. As a 2012 U.S. government report ominously states: in the next 10 years, water problems will contribute to instability, state failures and violence around the world.
Nonetheless, optimism and hope describe the mood at the recent “Water Security and Peace: Avenues for Cooperation” symposium at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Instead of emphasizing disputes, which is too often the case, we wanted to draw attention to the ways in which cooperation can overcome water conflicts. Read More
May 27, 2014
Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion on water for food at Water for our Future, a lead-up event to the triennial World Water Forum to be held April 2015. The lively panel discussion was wide-ranging and informative – and to me, at least, very encouraging. I was particularly cheered by three aspects of the discussion. Read More
April 29, 2014
For one thing, the aquifer that most think of — one of the world’s largest that underlies parts of eight U.S. states — is technically not the Ogallala Aquifer, but the High Plains Aquifer.
“That’s been a source of confusion,” said hydrogeologist Jim Goeke, professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “We use the names interchangeably, but they’re not the same. We have other productive aquifers in Nebraska in hydraulic connection that encompass the entire High Plains Aquifer.”
But the name aside, what bothers Goeke more is the common misinformation he encounters about aquifers, especially the High Plains. Read More
April 9, 2014
April 4, 2014
This week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its fifth report and connected – much more clearly than in past reports — climate change with risks to global food production. More dramatic slowdowns in production are likely, the report warned, raising the specter of greater food scarcity at a time when population growth and rising incomes demand even more food.
Though it receives little attention, lack of water is a major reason crop production is suffering global challenges. Water shortages already occur in many of the world’s major food production areas; droughts, floods and other extreme events are on the rise globally; and some 700 million people already live in water-stressed areas. Those numbers will worsen in the years to come as populations and incomes increase and climate change intensifies. Read More
April 1, 2014
A year ago, I had a decision to make. It was time to plant, and my ground was ready. But soil temperatures were barely what they should be, and there was snow in the forecast. In my area, everyone knew that the longer we waited, the more yield we could lose. And the unusually wet spring had already delayed planting. But was it still too early? Should I wait until after the snow? Read More
March 27, 2014
A visit to Nebraska’s little known Sandhills reveals a landscape of gently rolling sand dunes blanketed with prairie grasses and wetlands. With its rich diversity of plants and wildlife, wide-open views and glorious sunsets, the Sandhills are a unique ecosystem covering a quarter of the state. Beyond its charms, the region serves critically important environmental and economic functions for the entire nation.
It’s hard to imagine this lush, tranquil landscape was once a barren wasteland of swirling sand and obscured sun. Read More
March 25, 2014
Years ago, I found myself high in the Andes, hours from anywhere, at a research station to visit barley plots. While waiting for my Peruvian host, I wandered over to a small plaque commemorating the station’s opening. And there, prominently displayed, was Norman Borlaug’s name. He’d given the dedication speech at this remote research station years earlier.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. Norman Borlaug touched people’s lives in all corners of the world. And while he was a great scientist widely recognized as the father of the Green Revolution, the 1970s agricultural movement that broadly expanded food production, he was also a modest man who gave tremendous energy and enthusiasm to training and supporting others, whom he called “revolutionaries.” Read More
March 21, 2014
At World Water Week in Stockholm last September, I participated in a session designed to foster a dialog between senior and young professionals. I was, needless to say, in the “senior” category. We’d been tasked with discussing the water/food/energy “Nexus Approach” and were given a set of questions in advance. The lively conversation raised many interesting points. It also exposed a fundamental difference in thinking that helps illuminate a debate I’ve seen intensifying in development circles.
As World Water Day and its water and energy theme are celebrated around the world tomorrow, it is timely to reflect on ways to approach nexuses in ways that are practical and expansive, rather than restrictive. Read More
March 13, 2014
Few topics in our national story are as pervasive and fundamental as water resources development – the federal (and sometimes local) government’s investment in the physical manipulation of our rivers, shores, lakes and wetlands. Whether as developer of engineering projects or licensor of private enterprises, these federal initiatives touch every aspect of human activity. Many have brought positive changes: facilitating trade and commerce, developing hydroelectricity as an alternative to coal, expanding agricultural opportunity and creating aesthetic attractions. But the scale and ubiquity of water projects alter the biophysical, social and economic landscapes, and have resulted in serious negative consequences. Read More
March 5, 2014
DWFI has launched The Proceedings of the 2013 Water for Food Conference. The report summarizes the presentations and discussions that took place when a diverse array of more than 450 experts and practitioners from 24 countries assembled to explore the theme: Too Hot, Too Wet, Too Dry: Building Resilient Agroecosystems.
The 2013 Conference focused on climate change and variability and what can be done to adapt to changing climatic conditions. As DWFI Director Roberto Lenton noted in the Proceedings’ preface: “…the message was clear: climate change is real and the scientific evidence is compelling. We urgently need to find better ways of mitigating and adapting to floods, droughts and the effects of climate extremes.” Read more
February 26, 2014
February 18, 2014
The concept of resilience, first introduced in the 1970s, has become a hot topic, reaching beyond its ecological roots to other fields, including water and food systems. But resilience researchers and food productivity experts don’t necessarily speak the same language and greater collaboration would benefit future water and food security as well as natural ecosystems, said Craig Allen, University of Nebraska-Lincoln wildlife ecologist and DWFI fellow.
Last week, Allen and other members of the Resilience Alliance, an international, multi-disciplinary network of researchers, met with DWFI’s Christopher Neale in Paris to develop a collaborative large-scale research project that brings a resilience focus to food production. The three-day meeting is a direct result of networking that began at the 2013 Water for Food Conference, which focused on building resilient agroecosystems. Read More
February 6th, 2014
January 17, 2014
You hear it all the time in agricultural policy and research discussions: yields for the world’s major cereal crops will continue marching steadily upward. In fact, yields in many parts of the world have already plateaued and the relative rate of increase everywhere else is declining, says Ken Cassman, Robert B. Daugherty Water Food Institute Fellow and University of Nebraska-Lincoln agronomist.
In a study recently published in the journal Nature Communications, Cassman and UNL colleagues Patricio Grassini and Kent Eskridge suggest the challenge to feed the world is even more daunting than previously thought.
We spoke with Cassman about their findings and what it means for the future of global food security. Cassman leads an international research effort to create the Global Yield Gap and Water Productivity Atlas, an easily accessible web-based platform to estimate exploitable gaps in yield and water productivity of the world’s major food crops. Read More