Research and Economic Development, Office of


Date of this Version



Published in: Future of Water for Food: Proceedings of the Future of Water for Food Conference Held at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, May 3-5, 2009. University of Nebraska–Lincoln Office of Research and Economic Development (2009). Copyright © 2009, The Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska.


How can we manage the spatial and temporal distribution and redistribution of water to enhance food production? Better tools are the answer.

Microsupplies versus macrosupplies: Allen made a distinction between developing countries and developed countries. In developing countries, research should concentrate primarily on the microsupply systems, such as micro drip and mini sprinklers and the widely successful treadle pump. The treadle pump is an inexpensive way to bring water supplies to farmers who can only afford a $20 to $100 investment. The pump only works with a shallow groundwater system, but this rarely is a problem, especially in areas (such as parts of India) where the pumps address waterlogging problems. The treadle pump was developed by International Development Enterprises and has been supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization, World Bank and the Gates Foundation. These organizations are focusing on getting microsupply systems to farmers in the villages by creating local business systems to produce the equipment, avoiding the significant bureaucratic obstacles found in many countries. The greatest impact of these systems is that they move farmers from subsistence farming to reliably growing a high-value cash crop, putting money in their hands for educating their children, Allen said.

Macrosupplies, such as large reservoirs, must be considered in both developed and developing countries. Allen cited George Hargraves, a Utah State University researcher, who 10 years ago pointed out that while reservoirs have some large environmental problems, they also provide a major benefit by concentrating farming in river valleys. Concentrating the food production in a country like Brazil might actually reduce slash-and-burn agriculture, which is highly erosive and has other adverse ecological impacts.