UNL's Water for Food Institute director: Grow more food with less water

Story by Rosemary Vestal, NewsNetNebraska

More crop per drop.

That was the simple message delivered Monday by University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor Roberto Lenton, founding director of the the Robert B. Daughtery Water for Food Institute.

There needs to be more food grown in crop yields to support the ever increasing population, but there’s a catch — to grow more food with less water, Lenton said.

The main focus of his Monday lecture, “Water for Food: Think globally, act locally,” was to explain what the issue of water consumption means on a global level and a local level, and how the Water for Food Institute is working with others to find solutions to this task.

The institute is committed to helping the world efficiently use its limited freshwater resources, said Lenton, who became director Feb. 1 and has more than 40 years of international experience in water resources and sustainable development.

“We need to focus on innovation and connecting research with practice and policy,” Lenton said. The goal is to estimate the global crop yield gap and water productivity within four years.

But the institute can’t do it alone. National and global partnerships are being made with others, including the U.S. Agency for International Development, Delft University in Netherlands and Harvard.

Lenton’s lecture was part of the The Heuermann Lectures, which enable Nebraskans to participate in conversations with people all over the globe who are continually trying to solve food-related and energy problems on an international level.

One of those in attendance, Amy Burgin, a UNL associate professor of natural resources, said she was interested to see the direction that the Water for Food Institute was going since it is fairly young.

“This was more or less was has been coming out (about the institute),” Burgin said. “It was nice to see them take other focuses other than yields, the human aspect.”

Burgin’s comment was highlighted by a farmer in the audience who asked Lenton what else can be done besides increasing crop yield.

“We are not looking for short-term gains,” Lenton said. “That also means looking out for the other resources as well.”

Lenton said the institute shouldn’t only focus on capturing water but also must deal with human considerations. And any problem has to be handled at the local level, not just be discussed as a global issue.

The Heuermann Lectures at UNL enable Nebraskans to participate in conversations with people all over the globe who are continually trying to solve food-related and energy problems on an international level.

The next and final lecture in the Heuermann Lectures for the semester will be on May 8 at 2:30 p.m. Dr. Jay Keasling will discuss alternative energy.