Philanthropic leader talks global food strategy in Lincoln

Farm Forum

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) – The University of Nebraska’s Water for Food Institute is working to form partnerships to help feed a global population that’s expected to reach 10 billion by 2050.

The organization’s board chairman, Jeff Raikes, spoke about the tremendous societal and systemic change needed to feed the world at the institute’s annual conference on April 25, the Lincoln Journal Star ( ) reports.

The former CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said organizations like Water for Food could flourish through “catalytic philanthropy.” He defined the strategy as a “sweet spot” where philanthropic organizations are able to see success by partnering with the private and public sectors.

“The private sector is a very, very effective mechanism for allocating goods and services as long as there is a market opportunity,” said Raikes, who is now the CEO of the Raikes Foundation.

The public sector, he added, may have less of an appetite for risk because it has significantly greater restraints on its resources.

Water for Food plans to use the results of its “catalytic philanthropy” to point to opportunities for both the public and private sectors.

Founding executive director Roberto Lenton said that the organization is ready to begin solving the problems of feeding a growing global population within the restrictions placed upon food producers in a closed system.

In its first five years, the institute’s goals have been to improve groundwater management, close crop yield gaps, improve high-efficiency agriculture and develop policy and solutions related to water, food, health and ecosystems.

The institute has already helped develop the Global Yield Gap Atlas with the Gates Foundation, Wageningen University and the Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security. The tool allows researchers to study location-specific data tied to evaporation and weather compared against crop yields in Sub-Saharan Africa and other places around the world.

“That has already started producing really important information to what extent farmers in particular areas are achieving their full potential,” Lenton said. “Where there are big gaps, there are also big opportunities for improvement.”