Research and Economic Development, Office of


Date of this Version



University of Nebraska–Lincoln Office of Research and Economic Development (2010). Proceedings of the 2010 Water for Food Conference. Lincoln.


Copyright 2010, The Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska. All rights reserved.


The water crisis will play a major role in the future of global poverty, yet little awareness of this critical issue exists and few discussions are taking place about securing water for food, Jeff Raikes said. In a call to action, Raikes advocated an integrated and interdisciplinary approach, one that pulls on all levers to solve the pending crisis.

The Crisis
Already about 75 to 80 percent of human water consumption is used to grow food, Raikes said. The projected doubling in food demand, coupled with climate change’s impact on geographic availability of water, will significantly increase the demand for water, precipitating a water crisis.

To illustrate the crisis, Raikes, who grew up on a family farm near Ashland, Neb., remembers his father describing the state’s wonderful agricultural resources – the rich soils and nearly infinite supply of water. But a photograph of Lake McConaughy in western Nebraska that shows a boat dock left high and dry far from the lake due to plunging water levels tells a different story. Similarly, a photograph of a dry Jialing River in the shadow of Chongqing, a Chinese city of more than 30 million people, illustrates how urbanization stresses water resources. Industrial water consumption is expected to more than double by 2050. And in a third photograph, a crowd surrounds a large well during a 2003 drought in Natwargadh in India’s Gujarat state. “Think about the regional context,” Raikes said. “In India, it may be low groundwater levels as the largest problem. In China … it can be rivers that don’t reach the sea.”

Raikes compared projections for 2050 to today’s food and water needs. Agriculture currently uses about 7 million cubic kilometers of water annually through evapotranspiration to produce the nearly 20 calories consumed daily. By 2050, based on projected food demand from population increases and dietary changes, water requirements will reach 13 million cubic kilometers under a business-as-usual scenario. That figure does not include demands from biofuels.

In addition, water is not where it is needed most, a problem likely to worsen. Raikes said the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is particularly concerned about areas of water scarcity, both physical and economic, because the places where water is scarce are the same places where hunger is worst.

Global weather trends are particularly threatening in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is likely to get drier. The way in which climate change will expose itself to the world, the way in which it will become tangible to people, is through a crisis, Raikes said. “My conclusion is that if we don’t change, if we don’t innovate across the spectrum of all the levers that we can pull, if we don’t take an integrated, interdisciplinary approach to this challenge, we are not going to be able to feed the world.”


Given this crisis, what solutions are available? Raikes asked. Some options include:

• Using more land, an unsustainable worldwide solution in the long term.

• Using more water, an option in some areas of Sub-Saharan Africa, but sufficient water may be unavailable or inaccessible.

• Reusing wastewater, an important option for urban farming, but inappropriate for some crops and unable to alleviate much of the water pressure in rural areas.

• Wasting less food, an important but ill-understood option. An estimated 30 to 40 percent of all food produced fails to reach consumers because of post-harvest losses in developing countries and food disposal in developed countries. Less waste, however, can alleviate only some of the water pressure.