Early this morning, Roberto Lenton, Founding Executive Director of the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute at the University of Nebraska welcomed a large audience to the Water for Food 2013 Global Conference in Lincoln, Neb. We didn’t waste any time getting down to business, either.
Jeff Raikes, CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, moderated an impressive panel of international water expertise: (Paul Hicks, Catholic Relief Services, Latin America and the Caribbean Region; Aditi Mukherji, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, Nepal; Karen Villholth, International Water Management Institute, South Africa; and Ravinder Kauer, Water Technology Centre, Indian Agriculture Research Institute. Two topics really resonated with me during the “Research in Action” session that Raikes & the panel addressed:
- Women are central to farming! Women have important roles in agriculture, notably in Africa.
- We need to utilize the best research in the world, whether it comes from the private or public sector.
Monsanto is working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Howard G. Buffet Foundation and others on WEMA (Water Efficient Maize for Africa), a great example of this type of collaboration. This is a public- private partnership that is bringing drought- tolerant seeds to African farmers.
According to the opening panel today, around 70 percent of the farm laborers in Sub-Saharan Africa are women. In addition to that, I remember hearing at a previous WEMA panel and again today, that when these African farmers face harsh environmental conditions that affect the crop, the farmers often face hunger themselves. Farmers going hungry? Doesn’t seem right, does it? Providing technology to those very farmers is one of the components of WEMA.
Other speaker highlights:
- World Water Council President Benedito Braga took the stage to discuss water and food production with some alarming statistics. He reported that from now to 2025, about two-thirds of the world population will live in countries under large water stress.
- Rosina Bierbaum, professor at the School of Natural Resources and Environment at University of Michigan, provided a full plate of scientific research on the cause of climate change. According to Bierbaum, last year, 30,000 high temperature records were broken in the U.S. Holy Moly, ya’ll!
- Finally, Sally Mackenzie, Ralph and Alice Raikes Chair, Plant Sciences, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, discussed her team’s research with epigenetics. Essentially, they found that future generations of plants can become adaptable to environmental stresses that the mother plant once experienced.
In a few hours, our speakers presented heavy topics with a sense of urgency. Basically, climate changes are occurring, and the problems are not going to repair themselves. Furthermore, it doesn’t seem like there is much time to react. Innovation, technology and collaboration are going to be key in providing solutions and results.
I’m off to the listen to the afternoon panel about surviving the drought. Just Add Water? If only it were that simple.
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