Growing More Food with Less Water, Improving Global Water Condition

By Brooke Talbott

Daugherty Water for Food Institute's Andreini brings global expertise to Nebraska

Water is used every day: by households for drinking and cooking, by industry for manufacturing and cleaning, and by farmers for growing crops and sustaining livestock. As the year 2050 approaches- the year that demographers project the world population will reach 9 billion - so does the challenge of growing more food. To meet this increasing food demand, crop yields must double. To double crop yields, water productivity must improve dramatically. Growing more food with less water is one of the goals of the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute (DWFI) at the University of Nebraska. Improving water management and infrastructure around the world is another.

Marc Andreini, a civil engineer and hydrologist, is a senior research scientist with the Daugherty Water for Food Institute. He has worked in several African countries to strengthen the management and productivity of water. With the Daugherty Water for Food Institute, Andreini is helping Nebraska researchers to establish partnerships with their peers in other countries.

"The University of Nebraska and Nebraska as a state have a lot to be proud of," Andreini said. "Water is well-managed here. Productivity is very high and we can share what we know with the world."

A united effort

The Water for Food Institute will initially target the countries of Brazil, Russia, India, China and Africa for research partnerships. "There are undoubtedly technologies, ideas and things that are being developed elsewhere in the world that we can benefit from," Andreini said. "As we learn more, we produce more, our research becomes more well-known, we'll attract more money to the University of Nebraska," Andreini said. "Not only for global research, but for research targeted at Nebraska issues."

Equally as important, the Daugherty Water for food Institute is looking for collaborators in the state of Nebraska. "There's already a great deal of expertise that we can tap into, Andreini said. That expertise is available across the state and especially within the four university campuses in Lincoln, Kearney and Omaha.

"As we work together, we'll learn from one another," he said. "And the capacity we build as a community is extremely important. I'm looking forward to that and I hope other people will join us."

Conditions around the world

Center Pivot irrigationAlthough water is used daily for domestic and industrial purposes, Andreini said the bulk of the world's water is used for agriculture. In the United States, 70 percent of water withdrawals are for agriculture; in less-developed areas, the figure is 90 percent. Since the amount withdrawn for agriculture is so large, even a small improvement in agricultural water productivity would make a big difference, Andreini said. "By improving the productivity of water, we end up improving the water situation globally."

The challenge for many countries, Andreini said, is "economic water scarcity" meaning they lack the infrastructure necessary to withdraw water for agricultural production. Less-developed countries do not always have the resources and equipment for water infrastructure that more-developed countries have built.

Some areas, like the Sahelian Zone in Africa- often called the Sahel- are very dry and have little available water. Other areas, like the Congo River Basin in central Africa have more than enough water, but do not have the financial resources to develop better water infrastructure- the reservoirs that store water, pumping systems that bring water to farms and irrigation systems to apply water to crops.

In the United States, Andreini said, farming is more capitalintensive than it is in other parts of the world. Much of the world's agricultural production is subsistence farming, meaning that farmers produce little or no surplus. In combination with an increasing population, he added, people are moving away from the countryside to the big cities and becoming more affluent, placing pressure on farm production.

"People in urban areas don't grow their own food and are reliant on agricultural production from either abroad or the rural areas of their own country," Andreini said. "We have to be able to improve agricultural production to the level that surplus can be produced to feed the people in the cities."


The Morrill Act of 1862


A Message From:

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Ronnie Green

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