Water for Food

food production

Growing the gains and pruning the pains in producing Africa’s food

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]

Understanding agricultural water use in North India

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]

2015 Global Agricultural Productivity Report shared at World Food Prize event

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]

Learning about the Water-Energy-Food nexus in Nebraska

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]

Researcher brings soil-moisture monitoring technology from the cornfield to the battlefield

December 9, 2014

Trenton Franz

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

Big data, more crops?

November 18, 2014

Mobile Phones

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

A New Atlas to Shape How We Feed the World

November 5, 2014

Ken Cassman

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

Farming in the Great Plains: ‘Things can go either way.’

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


Norman Borlaug bucked conventional wisdom, and inspired a generation

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

New collaboration to help build resilience in agroecosystems

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

Q&A with Ken Cassman: Study upends long-held food security assumptions

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

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