Verma: Ag, biological engineers’ society seeks to develop a scorecard to assess global food, water, energy gaps
By U of A System Division of Agriculture
April 28, 2017
- Conference unites engineers from Africa, Asia and the Americas
- Engineers looking to tackle global food, water, energy challenges together
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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Knowing the scope of a problem is critical to devising a solution, especially when the problems are continent-sized, said the Arkansas-based past president of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers.
Finding ways to meet the food, water and energy challenges facing billions of people is at the heart of a global initiative that grew out of Lalit Verma’s term as president of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers.
Verma, head of the Agricultural and Biological Engineering department, part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture and the University of Arkansas College of Engineering, was instrumental in organizing the Engineering and Technology Innovation for Global Food Security Conference. Held in South Africa last October, the conference marked the first volley in the society’s Global Engagement Initiative.
The conference was co-sponsored by the Division of Agriculture, and the College of Engineering, among others. It was co-hosted by Stellenbosch University, a public research university in Stellenbosch, South Africa. It is the first of a series to be held biennially with an eye to tackling the grand challenges of food, water and energy security globally. The next such conference, scheduled for October 2018, will focus on water security.
Verma, who held the presidency between 2014-15, said the conferences also help unite sister engineering societies from Africa and Asia with those in the Americas.
“I wanted our society and profession to have a wider global presence in terms of the challenges embodied in trying to grow more food in the next 30 years,” he said. “There are different societies trying to take on these grand challenges. Neither a single discipline or society can tackle these issues alone. We see multiple professions coming together to address these things.
“Our ultimate goal is to develop a scorecard so that our food, water and energy areas are relative to the country or continent you’re dealing with,” Verma said. “That way, in a year or so, we can come back and say we’ve made progress or not.”
The next step in this task is a meeting with the Global Harvest Initiative, which produces an annual Global Agricultural Productivity, or GAP, report “to get some in-depth information on their GAP report. We want to learn how this report is prepared,” he said. “Our hope is that we can learn from the engineering and technology point of view what can be done in specific countries to meet the food challenge.”
Verma said the society is working on a position paper summarizing what was learned during the conference at Stellenbosch and specifying next steps. “That should be out by summer time,” he said. “Hopefully this document will outline the efforts to bring multiple societies and disciplines together and have action items and make some progress on this.”
“The challenges surrounding the need to almost double the global food supply in a sustainable manner are immense,” said Mark Cochran, vice president-agriculture for the University of Arkansas System, and head of the Division of Agriculture. “The American Society of Agricultural Engineers is to be congratulated for focusing on the many contributions of their discipline on this important issue.”
The effort has its roots in a white paper that grew out of the society’s 2013 strategic planning meeting in Montreal, Quebec, which focused on climate changes and sustainability.
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