Feeding an Ever-Growing Global Population


by Todd Neeley, DTN Staff Reporter

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) — It’s a complex issue with a series of possible complex solutions — how to feed a growing world population while water resources continue to dwindle.

By some estimates there will be nearly 9 billion people to feed by the year 2050 with a fairly finite supply of freshwater available.

Roberto Lenton, executive director of the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute at the University of Nebraska, told an audience at the annual Water for Food Global Conference in Lincoln, Neb., Wednesday that efforts made by farmers and natural resource districts across the state to reduce the amount of water used have been successful. He said the same model can be used throughout the world to produce more food with less water.

Increased urbanization across the world, particularly in southeast Asia, should be cause for concern, he said. More than 150 cities in Asia have populations of more than 1 million people and are “growing astronomically,” Lenton said.

“The trend is in a worrisome direction and is requiring all of us to produce more food with less water,” he said.

“Problems and solutions will differ from place to place. Cookie-cutter solutions don’t work. Producing more food with less water is scale-specific.”

Lenton pointed to a success story in the heart of corn country in southeast Nebraska as an example of how agriculture and various other interests can come together to solve pressing water problems.

The Upper Big Blue water district faced a declining water table in the 1970s, he said, and was forced to make decisions to reverse the trend.

The district put in place groundwater regulations and increased the more efficient use of water.

“There has been an increase in irrigation, but the more efficient use of the resource has reversed the trend,” Lenton said. “The water table has increased and the table is more or less following rainfall patterns. Nature is determining the level of the groundwater.”

Nebraska as a whole has seen a rapid increase in irrigation agriculture in the last several decades.

He said the total amount of water used for irrigation is more than any other country in the Americas except for Mexico. Nebraska has 150,000 active irrigation wells used on 4 million hectares (9.9 million acres).

Through the work of the Nebraska Agriculture Water Management Network, state farmers have reduced the amount of water drawn. Lenton said farmers are focusing more on how to apply less water by monitoring soil-moisture levels “so as to apply water to crops as it is needed.”

The five-year-old institute is involved in establishing partnerships across the world with the hopes of implementing many of the same practices that have been successful in Nebraska, in countries that face rapid population gains and changes in diets, increasing pressure on water supplies to produce more food.

“Population growth is primarily in poorer parts of the world,” Lenton said. “When people rise out of poverty there is an increase in calories consumed and a change in diet.”


© Copyright 2012 DTN/The Progressive Farmer, A Telvent Brand. All rights reserved.

Posted with DTN Permission by Haylie Shipp


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