The head of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said Monday it has a simple mantra as it works to address world hunger and a looming water shortage: More crop per drop.
Foundation CEO Jeff Raikes told participants at an international water conference that scientists are making major strides in developing high-yield crops and improving farming practices. The key will be getting that technology to the places where it's needed most, such as poverty-stricken sub-Sahara Africa and south Asia, he said.
"I see the linkage of the water crisis and the future of global poverty," he said, "yet I don't see the general awareness of this issue. I don't hear the talk of securing water for food.
"We worry about terrorism, yet do we understand that the battles over resources are the most devastating?"
Raikes echoed the notion that many of the 20th century's conflicts were based on oil, and many of this century's conflicts will be over water.
The Gates Foundation, which has given away $20.1 billion the past decade for global health and development programs and U.S. education, is looking for ways to head off violence.
Raikes noted that low groundwater is a major problem in India, and he showed photos of dry lakes and riverbeds in Africa and China.
"The water we have," he said, "isn't in the places where we need it the most."
Raikes said he expects leadership from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Global Water for Food Institute, established last month with a $50 million gift from the Robert B. Daugherty Charitable Foundation.
Without better farming practices and water management in impoverished areas, the amount of water required to meet global demand for food will almost double by 2050, Raikes said.
"We have to get more food on the same land with the same or less amount of water," Raikes said.
The world population is projected to grow from 6 billion to 9 billion over the next 40 years, with the biggest increase in developing nations. Improving diets in developing nations such as India and China will further increase food demand, he said.
Meanwhile, the development of biofuels is cutting into water and land use for food crops, Raikes said, and there is increasing demand for water by industry.
Plus, climate-change projections show areas that now receive little rainfall could receive even less in 50 years, Raikes said.
Stretching the potential for each drop of water will require governments to take the water issue seriously and endorse policies that help farmers get quality seeds and irrigation systems, fertilizer training and access to markets, among other things, he said.
"With the technology and tools today, we could potentially feed the world," Raikes said. "But there is a barrier, as far as delivering the technology and tools to the people who need them the most."
The Gates Foundation was created in 2000 by the Microsoft chairman and his wife.