Water for Food Institute a Global Leader in Water, Food Research
By Jaclyn Tan
The Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute at the University of Nebraska is preparing to attract the world's brightest minds to Nebraska to meet the challenge of producing more food with less water, said University of Nebraska President James B. Milliken.
"We hope that by providing a focus in Nebraska," Milliken said, "by providing an institute that is addressing a problem that is faced all over the world, we will be a talent magnet here."
Milliken said by 2012, the university hopes to have hired an executive director and key people to lead the research, policy development and educational efforts, as is the mission of the institute. He said he also hopes to recruit people from various areas- agriculture, water, government and policy circles- to serve on advisory boards at NU to help shape the institute's agenda.
In early 2010, NU received $50 million from the Robert B. Daugherty Charitable Foundation to provide seed money for a global water institute. Daugherty founded Valmont Industries in Omaha, one of the largest center pivot irrigation systems firms in the world.
"We were delighted to be able to name the institute for him," Milliken said. "I think it's a fitting tribute to a man whose life's work has been devoted to the agricultural use of water, and that's what the institute is dedicated to."
Nebraska Makes Sense
Using water efficiently in agriculture is critical to feeding the world, Milliken said. By 2050, the population of the world will increase from about 6.5 billion to more than 9
billion, he said, requiring food production to double to meet this need. "That has to happen with the same amount of water or even less water," he said, "because as the population grows, urban centers require more water for sanitation, safe drinking, industrial uses."
So why put this global institute in Nebraska? "There are a lot of reasons why Nebraska makes sense,"
Milliken said. Water is fundamentally important to agriculture, he said. Nebraska is the most irrigated state in the U.S. and also sits on top of the Ogallala Aquifer, the largest freshwater resource in North America. In addition, the institute will build on the strength of the UNL Water Center, which has been around for more than 60 years and involves about 100 faculty members from many parts of the university, Milliken said.
Building Global Partnerships Toward Solutions
In the challenge to find solutions to water problems, the institute continues to build partnerships with institutions on a global level, Milliken said. "The potential partners for this work are spread across the world," he added. "Those solutions may be different in Nebraska than they are in South Asia, for instance. But, we believe that there are commonalities, that there are some policy issues, that there are some basic research issues that are important to both [areas]."
In March 2011, he attended a conference in Chennai, India, which was hosted by a joint entity of the U.S. and Indian governments, the Indo-US Science and Technology Forum. In the several-day conference, faculty from the University of Nebraska, Michigan State University and Iowa State University, along with their counterparts in India, talked about common issues in agriculture use of water.
Milliken said that NU also has been working with the United Nations' International Hydrological Program, which according to its website, is "an intergovernmental program devoted to water research, water resources management, and education and capacity building," and Delft University in the Netherlands, which is a UNESCO-sponsored university and the largest university in the world dedicated to water research and education. "It's the kind of institutional partnership that we're looking for to help leverage our work," Milliken said, "and I think they look at it the same way."
2011 Water for Food Conference
Milliken said the 2011 Water for Food Conference in Nebraska, held in May 2011, brought to Lincoln global leaders in water research. More importantly, the conference spread the word about the institute. "We've had people from China, India, Africa, Europe, South America, come to our conferences and we expect that to continue," he said. "In fact, we expect interest to grow."
Opportunities for Nebraska
While the institute still needs to secure key leadership personnel, the University of Nebraska is building on its strengths in water research, Milliken said. "I think the impact of the work of our faculty is already being felt," he said. "I met with some university officials in China recently who told me that the work of our faculty at the University of Nebraska has helped significantly expand the yield of corn there, with less water and less fertilizer."
Because of NU's strong background in water research and previous successes, Milliken is confident the university will obtain additional funding for the institute. "It's generated a tremendous amount of excitement around the world," he said, "and I think we'll have no trouble attracting other resources to support the work."
Through the global water conference, partnerships and private and public funding, Milliken said the institute will bring in global talent to Nebraska, which will benefit the state. "Talent doesn't stop at the Nebraska boundaries," Milliken said. "It doesn't stop at the U.S. boundaries. It's distributed around the world. And the more that we can do to attract that talent to Nebraska [and] to have our students and faculty collaborate with people elsewhere- [that] will really leverage what we have in Nebraska."
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