NU/USAID agreement focuses on water management in Middle East, North Africa

The University of Nebraska and the U.S. Agency for International Development on Feb. 16 signed a Memorandum of Understanding to collaborate on expanding research and development capacities related to water management in the Middle East and North Africa.

The NU-USAID partnership will focus especially on irrigation, groundwater management, rainfed agriculture and drought risk assessment and mitigation – areas that are critical in achieving global food security and in which NU and its Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute have significant strength.

President James B. Milliken signed the MOU on behalf of the university. He was joined at the ceremony held at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C., by Sen. Ben Nelson, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, Roberto Lenton, executive director of the university’s Daugherty Institute; UNL's Chancellor Harvey Perlman and vice chancellor for research and economic development Prem Paul; Ronnie Green, vice chancellor for the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources; and Ken Cassman, professor of agronomy and horticulture and a leading researcher in food security and yield-gap analysis.

Rajiv Shah, USAID administrator, signed the MOU on behalf of USAID, which is the federal agency responsible for providing American economic and humanitarian assistance around the world.

“I’m delighted that the University of Nebraska has this unique opportunity to partner with USAID to address one of our most important shared concerns: the need to feed a rapidly growing global population with a limited amount of water,” Milliken said. “The university, through the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute, has significant expertise in issues related to water and agriculture, and our partnership with USAID will help leverage this expertise for greater benefit.

“Ultimately, I believe our collaboration has the potential to improve the quality of life for many people around the world – especially in areas where water scarcity is threatening human lives and global stability.”

Milliken noted that the regions of the Middle East and North Africa offer a unique laboratory of sorts for advancements in water and agriculture. The population in those areas is growing rapidly, and food production needs are intense; furthermore, arid conditions mean there is a high demand for development of drought tolerant crops and technology to manage farming in water-restricted conditions.

“There are few places in the world where the challenges presented by water scarcity are more pressing than in much of the Middle East and North Africa,” Milliken said. “The geopolitical and social issues related to access to water – or lack of it – are matters of life and death in that part of the world.

“Efforts to increase access to water in this volatile and strategically critical region will lower tensions and help maintain global stability. The University of Nebraska’s long history of cooperation in countries of the region including Morocco, Turkey and Israel make us a natural partner in these efforts.”

Through the MOU, the university and USAID will support the work of the Middle East North Africa Network of Water Centers of Excellence, a network of government, research, private and educational institutions committed to addressing water challenges and reducing global tensions created by water scarcity through research, capacity-building, innovation and knowledge sharing.

Specific goals will be identified over the next few months, but they are likely to align with the following themes:

· Research and policy analysis on the efficiency and sustainability of water use in agriculture in the Middle East and North Africa, with a focus on irrigation and groundwater management.

· Development of a knowledge base to foster innovative, effective solutions to the global challenge of growing more food with less water.

· Increased water productivity in agriculture in Middle Eastern and North African nations through new technologies, improved crops and innovative management practices.

· Development and dissemination of knowledge and tools that can inform and guide policymakers, members of the public and others in managing water resources, including in the area of drought risk assessment and mitigation.

The Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute is a research, education and policy analysis institute committed to helping the world efficiently use its limited freshwater resources, with particular focus on ensuring the food supply for current and future generations. Founded in April 2010 with a $50 million gift from the Robert B. Daugherty Charitable Foundation, the institute draws on the expertise of the university’s campuses and the state’s agricultural producers and water managers to find ways to grow more food with less water.