Food and Water for Life

by L. Spairani

Scientists, economists and politicians have met in Venice from the 24th to the 27th of September 2008 to debate the issue of ”Food and Water for Life” The TDF staff were present. The fourth edition of the World Conference “The Future of Science” to focus on the shortage of water and the protection of water sources, sustainable development and agriculture, food safety and correct nutrition. True to the spirit of The Future of Science program, this is a cross-cutting conference that welcomed economists, politicians, journalists, scientists, students, enterpreneurs and broadly all those who are interested in the topics of the debate. The key belief is that one of the main aims of applied scientific research is to eradicate poverty and famine and supply water for irrigation and consumption. The panellists include prominent personalities, from Shirin Ebadi, Iranian Nobel laureate for peace in 2003, and Rita Levi Montalcini, Nobel laureate for Medicine in 1986.

Over 800 million people worldwide do not have physical and economic access to adequate supplies of food to enable them to grow to their full genetic potential, or to lead active and productive lives. Lack of access to food and micronutrient deficiency problems, along with poor environmental conditions and lack of education and health care lead to low average life spans for many, including high and preventable morbidity and mortality rates among children of less that 5 years of age. 

It is estimated that more than 24,000 infants and children of less than 5 years of age die each day due to malnutrition and related diseases and conditions, including diarrhea, infections, and ingestion of unsafe foods and contaminated drinking water.



The Sahara Forest Project - C.Paton


Safe Water at Bottom of Pyramid ( I part) - S.Murcott


Safe Water at Bottom of Pyramid ( II part) - S.Murcott


Food, Life span regulation and cancer - PG Pelicci


Impact of Fisheries on Marine Ecosystems and Food Security-Daniel Pauly


From wisdom of Ancient India to the global food and healthcare markets -can India make it? - Dr. Villoo Morawala-Patell


Nutrition status in China - past, present and future consideration - Chunming Chen


Prospects for reducing crop losses to plant disease - Jonathan D G Jones


Safe and Healthy food for all: whose responsibility?  - Lord Krebs


Biotechnology to support food sustainability in the developing Countries - T. Yilma


The Future of Foods in a world of Personalized health - Bruce Germain


Tackling Chronic Diseases: the Potential of Preventive Medicine through Improvements to Diet  - Martin


Obesity and Diabetes: Excess of Food or Toxic Environment - Barbara E. Corkey


Biofortification, a cost-effective intervention for micro-nutrient deficiency - Ingo Potrykus

The most interesting lectures:

Some presentations are available.

Climate, Water, and Public Health in Africa - Elfatih Eltahir

The connections between climate, water, and disease have been explored using the example of malaria transmission in a couple of villages in the Sahel region of West Africa. Field observations provide evidence for a strong relationship between climate variability and malaria transmission in Africa.
The role of numerical models as tools for prediction of the impact of climate change on malaria transmission have been discussed.

Innovations Bringing Safe Drinking Water to 1 Billion People at the Bottom of the Pyramid - Susan Murcott
Food and safe water availability are the highest security priorities for the 1 billion people at the bottom of the global economic pyramid. The household drinking water treatment and safe storage (HWTS) - innovations are addressing this economic group’s urgent need for safe water.
HWTS technologies have come into existence since the 1990s and are explicitly designed to remove major contaminants found in unsafe drinking water – infectious pathogens, arsenic, fluoride, and more. These systems have powerful and appealing characteristics. They are engineered to be simple, self-reliant, local, user-friendly and low-cost. They empower users, especially women and children, who bear a disproportionate burden to secure household water. The motivation driving the development of these technologies is the aspiration for a common, social good, not unlike the 20th century search for a polio vaccine or the 21st century search for cures for HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB, and an instatement of a basic human right to water. While HWTS solutions necessitate household-by-household adoption and sustained use, taking these products from pilot scale to widespread commercialization is also essential. The exciting question is, if commercial products, such as computers, cell phones and Internet can “go exponential,” then can these safe water technologies also be taken to scale? If the answer is “Yes,” HWTS will be part of the solution that provides safe drinking water in the next several decades to the 1 billion people at the bottom of the pyramid.
Field experience implementing HWTS innovations in Ghana and Nepal have been described:
In Ghana, Pure Home Water is a social enterprise established in 2005 to disseminate HWTS products among low-income customers, with its main focus on the promotion and sale of ceramic pot filters, locally known as Kosim filters, currently reaching over 100,000 people.
In Nepal, the widespread adoption of shallow tubewells in Nepal’s Terai region over the last 20 years enabled improved in access to water. However, recent national water quality testing has shown that 3% of these sources contain arsenic above the Nepali interim guideline of 50 ig/L, and up to 60% contain unsafe microbial contamination. To address this challenge, an international team has invented, tested, and then implemented the KanchanTM Arsenic Filter (KAF) through an iterative, learning framework. This household system costs only US$25 and is now serving 65,000 with safe water.

The Sahara Forest Project – a new source of fresh water, food and energy- Charlie Paton

A proposal for ameliorating the effects and causes of climate change.
The Sahara Forest Project aims to provide a new source of fresh water, food and renewable energy in hot, arid regions, as well as providing conditions that enable re-vegetating areas of desert. The Sahara is used here as a metaphor for any desert that formerly supported vegetation and could do so again, given sufficient water.

The lack of fresh water is the root cause of much suffering and poverty. Present methods of supply in arid regions include; over-abstraction from ground reserves, diverting water from other regions and energy intensive desalination. None of these are sustainable in the long term and inequitable distribution leads to conflict. Climate change is tending to make dry areas drier and wet areas wetter. Since the 1980’s, rainfall has increased in several regions, while drying has been observed in the Sahel, the Mediterranean, southern Africa, Australia and parts of Asia.
The growth in demand for water and increasing shortages are two of the most predictable scenarios of the 21st century. Agriculture is a major pressure point. A shortage of water will also affect the carbon cycle as shrinking forests reduce the rate of carbon capture, and the regulating influence that trees and vegetation have on our climate will be disrupted, exacerbating the situation further. Fortunately, the world is not short of water, it is just in the wrong place and too salty. Converting seawater to fresh water in the right places offers the potential to solve all these problems.

This ambitious proposal combines two established technologies – the Seawater Greenhouse and Concentrated Solar Power – to achieve highly efficient synergies. Both processes work optimally in sunny, arid conditions. Seawater Greenhouses have been built in some of the hottest regions on earth, Abu Dhabi and Oman for example, where they create freshwater from seawater, while providing cooler and more humid growing conditions, enabling the cultivation of crops all year round.

Concentrated solar power is increasingly seen as one of the most promising forms of renewable energy, producing electricity from sunlight at a fraction of the cost of photovoltaics. The process uses mirrors to concentrate sunlight to create heat which is used to drive conventional steam turbines to generate electricity. Less than 1% of the world’s deserts, if covered with concentrating solar power plants, could produce as much electricity as the world now uses. By combining these technologies there is huge commercial potential to restore forests and create a sustainable source of fresh water, food and energy.

The scheme is proposed at a significant scale such that very large quantities of seawater are evaporated. Given that what goes up must come down, every drop of water evaporated will contribute to rainfall - somewhere. A 10,000 hectare area of Seawater Greenhouses will evaporate a million tonnes of seawater a day. If the scheme were located upwind of higher terrain then the air carrying this ‘lost’ humidity would be forced to rise and cool, contributing additional water to the mist or cloud. By using a location that lies below sea level, seawater pumping costs may be eliminated. There are a number of large inland depressions in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Eritrea for example. In each case, the prevailing wind direction is from the sea to the mountain areas inland.

Currently there are some 200,000 hectares of conventional greenhouses in Mediterranean region and this area has been growing at around 10% a year. Most of these, if not all, face water quality and availability issues and indeed many contribute to the depletion of ground water. By using greenhouses to create fresh water from seawater, the problem is reversed.

Water prices in agriculture: impacts on efficiency and equity- Isha Ray

Access to irrigation has been shown to increase crop yields by 100% - 400% around the world. Irrigation policy is therefore central to agricultural productivity, food security, and smallholder livelihoods in developing countries. It is conventional wisdom, however, that water use in irrigation is inefficient and wasteful. This is especially so when the water is delivered by flooding and furrow systems, as opposed to more advanced pressurized or drip systems. It is also well known that irrigation water is heavily subsidized for farmers, in the developed as well as the developing worlds. One of the tools advanced by economists to reduce irrigation inefficiencies is rational pricing. In the context of current subsidies, this means raising water prices either to cover the cost of its delivery or to reflect its scarcity value. It is also argued that higher water prices, by lowering agricultural demand, will free up water for urban regions or for the environment.
This presentation discusses the role of water prices in irrigation policy, with emphasis on surface water systems. We can distinguish between the impacts of “rational pricing” for cost recovery versus for irrigation efficiency. I examine the assumptions, often implicit, behind the claim that higher water prices will reduce water use, and therefore increase the water productivity of agriculture. These assumptions are often not justified in largely rural developing countries. I also examine the consequences of higher water prices on equity for the farmers who depend on the irrigation systems. Based on case studies from India, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Iran, Egypt and Morocco, I show that while irrigation efficiencies are often (but not always) suboptimal, and though water prices are often too low to reflect its opportunity cost, higher water prices are no guarantee of efficiency and may have negative consequences for equity and for local food security.
Institutional reforms – which are not without their own challenges – may be more effective in sending scarcity signals and in protecting small and downstream farmers.

Fisheries and global changes impacts on marine ecosystems and global food security Daniel Pauly

Individual fisheries are generally perceived as one fleet exploiting one or several target species, in a specific area. The vision of fisheries that will be presented here, however, is that of a global, integrated system spanning the global oceans. Consumers in the European Union, the United States, Japan and increasingly China, have been to date largely unaffected by the local depletions these fleets induce, as they are buffered by seafood imports from the developing world. Global fisheries, fed by onerous subsidies, have an enormous impact on marine ecosystems, which they degrade, and on their target species, whose abundance is generally reduced by a factor of ten or more a few decades after a fishery opens. This form of interaction with marine organisms, intensified by the effects of global warming, will lead in the next decades to a succession of local extirpation, followed by global extinctions, which will affect people in both developed and developing countries. Confronting this will require a new mode of thinking on how humans and marine wildlife can co-exist on Earth.

Biotechnology to support food sustainability in the developing Countries Tilahun Yilma

Development will bring food security only if it is people-centered, if it is environmentally sound, if it is participatory, and if it builds local and national capacity for self-reliance. These are the basic characteristics of sustainable human development. James Gustave Speth (UNDP, 1994).

The mission of the International Laboratory of Molecular Biology (ILMB) is to conduct and coordinate a research program that brings together experts in molecular biology, in order to facilitate work on the pathogenic mechanisms of human and animal tropical diseases (AIDS, Rift Valley fever, rinderpest, foot-and-mouth disease, etc.). In addition to the study of the molecular biology of disease agents, the ILMB has specific goals of developing vaccines and rapid diagnostic kits to aid in tropical disease control and to transfer these technologies to developing countries. One of the successful examples of the accomplishments of the ILMB is the development of a highly safe and efficacious vaccine and a rapid diagnostic kit for rinderpest, an acute and highly contagious viral disease of ruminants, often resulting in greater than 90% mortality. The first large-scale rinderpest eradication program in Africa (JP/15), in which more than 124 million cattle were vaccinated with the Plowright tissue culture vaccine (PTCV), failed in its mission primarily because the program did not transfer sustainable technology in disease control to affected countries in Africa and Asia. The ILMB has addressed this issue by incorporating a strong technology transfer component within our program for development of vaccines and diagnostic kits for diseases of humans and livestock.
A major goal of these projects is the training of scientists from developing countries in virology and molecular biology to assist and strengthen regional laboratories. Already, a number of scientists have been successfully trained and have published their work in first-rate international journals (Science, Nature Biotechnology, PNAS, Journal of Virology, Virology, etc.).

The recombinant seed stocks for vaccines and diagnostic reagents have already been provided to a number of laboratories in Africa, to bolster their capacity for local production. In an unprecedented cooperative effort, a workshop conducted by the Institut Sénégalais de Recherche Agricole (ISRA) and led by ILMB-trained African scientists in Dakar, Senegal, November 19-30, 2001 successfully transferred ELISA kit technology for the diagnosis of rinderpest to participants from more than 30 African countries. The ILMB is pleased to have helped initiate a new program: ASharing Sustainable Technologies Among Developing Nations,@ and stands ready to expand technology transfer throughout Africa and Asia. Empowering nations to develop, produce, and distribute effective vaccines and diagnostic kits will enable a truly global effort to control and even eradicate major diseases of humans and livestock.

TDF followed the Conference on Future of Science since it's beginning:

[013.LS.TDF.2008 - 28.12.2008]