Water for Food

Core assets and expertise to address the challenge

The Institute’s principal asset to address the challenges described in the previous section is that it is an integral part of the University of Nebraska with its significant expertise in a range of disciplines related to water and food and a strong track record of research in the subject. The University of Nebraska system includes the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, Omaha and Kearney (UNL, UNO and UNK respectively); the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC); the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis; and four system-wide institutes, including WFI and the Rural Futures Institute (which supports rural communities and regions to achieve their desired futures). The University has faculty experts in water sciences, agricultural sciences, information sciences, social sciences, law and public health and administration as well as specialized centers on issues of great relevance to water and food. 

One important specialized center is the Nebraska Water Center, which was established by Congressional mandate as one of 54 Water Resources Research Institutes in 1964 and is now an integral part of the WFI. The NWC facilitates research addressing water problems or understanding of water; helps new water researchers; trains future water researchers and engineers; and publishes water research results to water professionals and the public through publications, research colloquia and conferences, lectures and tours. The Water Sciences Lab, which is part of the Nebraska Water Center, is the largest analytical lab with the most advanced instruments and capacity based at a U.S. water center. The NWC has a track record of providing state-of-the-art analytical technology for conducting research in water resources conservation for food production systems; serving as a technical resource to federal, state, and local officials on measurement methods and potential impacts to water quality and human health from the use of water resources for food production; and providing hands-on training of water scientists and engineers to help make informed decisions and shape policies impacting water resource quantity and quality.

Another important specialized center is the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC), which helps people and institutions develop and implement measures to reduce societal vulnerability to drought, stressing preparedness and risk management rather than crisis management. The NDMC participates in the preparation and maintenance of the U.S. Drought Monitor website; develops the U.S. Drought Impact Reporter, a suite of web-based drought management decision-making tools. The center also contributes to drought planning and mitigation; drought policy; advising policy makers; and collaborative research. The NDMC participates in numerous international projects, including the establishment of regional drought preparedness networks in collaboration with the United Nations’ Secretariat for the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.

UNL’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources (IANR) is a critically important locus of expertise that brings together all of the University’s resources relating to food, water and other natural resources. IANR innovation in research, teaching, and extension education places Nebraska on the leading edge of food production, environmental stewardship, human nutrition, business development, and youth engagement. IANR houses several departments of great relevance to water and food, including Biological Systems Engineering, Agronomy and Horticulture, Agricultural Economics and Food Science and Technology, and its Vice-Chancellor also serves as Vice-President for Agriculture and Natural Resources for the University of Nebraska as a whole. IANR also houses the School of Natural Resources at UNL, which is recognized as an international leader in natural resources education, research, and outreach as well as the primary provider of natural resources information and service to Nebraska, and which itself includes several centers of expertise of relevance to WFI such as the NDMC and the Center for Advanced Land Management Information Technologies (CALMIT), which focuses on remote sensing, geographic information systems and global positioning systems. IANR also includes the Center for Plant Science Innovation, whose faculty carry out research on such subjects as plant-microbe interactions, plant signaling and organellar biology, abiotic and biotic stress responses, and genomics/proteomics. The plant research community at IANR allows for a host of productive collaborations such as plant breeding programs that incorporate modern technologies for crop improvement, an excellent ecology and evolution group that integrates an understanding of plant function to their natural environment, and an array of faculty investigating the food safety, environmental impact, and economic implications of agricultural biotechnology. Finally, a significant number of IANR faculty and administrators are globally-recognized livestock specialists with important links to the livestock industry, and the institute includes the UNL Panhandle Research and Extension Center in Scottsbluff with expertise in livestock production.

A further important center of relevant expertise at the University of Nebraska is the College of Public Health at UNMC, which promotes health and well-being through education, research, and service in collaboration with communities in Nebraska, across the country, and around the world. The strong engagement of the College in the development of WFI since inception provides a special comparative advantage for WFI to engage in the area of water, food and health and to foster creative collaborations among specialists in these subjects in research, policy and education.

Importantly, while the University of Nebraska’s significant expertise in water and food is undoubtedly its main asset, another set of WFI core assets is its external partnerships that enable it to access additional expertise and extend its global reach. The institute now has a significant infrastructure of partnerships with key national and international organizations. In particular, WFI has formal agreements with the UNESCO-IHE Institute of Water Education in Delft, the Netherlands; USAID and the USAID Water Centers of Excellence for the Middle East and North Africa; the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in Rome; the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in Sri Lanka; Jain Irrigation in Jalgaon, India; and the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in New Delhi India. In addition, WFI draws on formal agreements between the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at UNL with the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil and the Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Research in Beijing, China, to facilitate WFI collaborations.

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