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Food & Water: Innovation in Agriculture

Food & Water: Innovation in Agriculture

Food and water. We can’t live without them, but many people around the world are living without enough of either. The good news is that amazing work is being done to combat both drought and famine. 

We’ve written about some incredible advances in the production of clean water, including these articles:

Water: Sunlight-power water purifier

There are so many more exciting new tools being utilized to give fresh, clean water to the thirsty, including this new and vastly improved solar-powered water purifier. Qiaoqiang Gan, an electrical engineer at SUNY Buffalo, has created a new type of solar still for purifying water. In Global Challenges, Gan reports that the still is “ 88% efficient at channeling the energy in sunlight into evaporating water.” One square meter device can purify 1 liter of water per hour, and costs only about $1.60. This could be of immediate benefit not only to people in impoverished regions, but also to those affected by natural disasters that wipe out safe drinking water options. Science Magazine

Food: Innovations in Agricultural Production

So, great strides are being taken in the struggle to help provide clean water to people all across the globe. But what about food production? One way to combat hunger and famine is to grow better crops. Here’s an example:

In 1944, Norman Borlaug, a biologist and plant pathologist, “left the U.S. for Mexico to fight stem rust, a fungus that infects wheat, at the invitation of the Rockefeller Foundation, among others. He and his colleagues spent the next decade crossing thousands of strains of wheat from across the globe, ultimately developing a high-yielding, disease resistant variety. Unfortunately, it couldn't stand, heavy with grain. “ Scientific American 

Borlaug had worked for years to develop a strain of wheat that resisted disease and produced much grain, but it was so heavy that it couldn’t stand. So, he crossed the wheat again with a strain of Japanese dwarf wheat, producing a semi-dwarf wheat that produced large amounts of grain, was disease-resistant, and was short enough that it didn’t fall over. First, this wheat helped Mexico become self-sufficient in grain, and then it was taken to India and Pakistan, where it helped save millions from famine. Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 and is often credited with saving a billion lives from starvation. Because of his achievements to prevent hunger, famine and misery around the world, it is said that Dr. Borlaug has "saved more lives than any other person who has ever lived." World Food Prize

Borlaug’s work with wheat plants was crucial. Wheat provides approximately one-fifth of the total calories consumed globally, so how do we continue to increase production of this essential crop?  Plant scientists are still working on this question, and some researchers in the UK have produced a “superwheat” which is ready to begin field trials. Plants use carbon dioxide from the air to make food. These new wheat plants actually use carbon dioxide even better, and increase the efficiency of photosynthesis. These super-efficient wheat plants are predicted to boost a wheat harvest by 20 to 40 percent. Next Big Future and New Scientist

There are many other projects working to combat hunger, such as this one which is fighting critical Vitamin A deficiency in sub-Saharan Africa with sweet potatoes. “Orange-fleshed sweet potato (OFSP) is rich in vitamin A and is being disseminated with support from USAID under Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative.” USAID

Innovation in agriculture is key to global development and global health. “Here’s what we know. We need agriculture that not only produces more food, but also does so on less land with less degradation of our natural resources. The future of agricultural innovation must give us food, biodiversity, and all of the other services that ecosystems provide like clean water, soil nutrients, and fresh air.” Impatient Optimists: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation