There are currently around 768 million people lacking access to clean water, and by 2050, water demand is expected to increase by 55%. But a thirsty world is a hungry world too. Agricultural production will also need to increase by at least 60% to feed a world with a projected 9 billion people in it, and with 70% of global water use occurring in the food value chain, we need to find a way to secure more water for food.
The nexus of water and food is the focus of a partnership between USAID and the Governments of Sweden and The Netherlands, which kicked off this week by announcing 17 finalists of the inaugural “Securing Water for Food: A Grand Challenge for Development.”
The winners – selected from a pool of 520 applicants in over 90 countries – include four U.S. companies and organizations.
Beaverton, Oregon-based Puralytics developed the LilyPad, a reusable “photochemical water treatment product” that uses sunlight to kill harmful bacteria and viruses from ponds and streams. Thanks to Securing Water for Food, the LilyPad will help smallholder farmers in Mexico grow crops free from dangerous E. Coli bacteria and other common contaminants.
India is home to over 100 million farms that suffer from seasonal water scarcity. Driptech, an international water technologies company based in Silicon Valley, created an affordable drip irrigation system that uses an “innovative laser punching technology that ensures uniform water application at the root zone of all crops in a field.” The aim is to help smallholder farmers use less water than traditional flood irrigation techniques at around one-third of the cost.
Adaptive Symbiotic Technologies figured out that certain types of fungus found in Yellowstone National Park can increase the ability of plants to weather drought and temperature stresses. Seattle scientists commercialized the fungal mixture BioEnsure, which reduces the amount of water consumed by rice and corn crops by up to 50%, and increases tolerance to drought “with no negative impact when applied to seeds.”
From Alexandria, Virginia, World Hope International partnered with the Pennsylvania State University to bring affordable greenhouses to Sierra Leone and Mozambique, countries where approximately 70% of the population works in agricultural. Costing $500 per unit, these expandable greenhouses can be constructed in two days and are designed to last for five years, allowing smallholder farmers – particularly women farmers – conserve water while growing crops year-round.
This Grand Challenge for Development represents a smart way of using U.S. foreign assistance dollars to catalyze “game-changing innovations that can produce more food using less water”– while helping secure all our futures.