The University of Arizona played a significant role in the first-ever Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture, in which participants from 62 countries gathered in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, to present the world’s largest collection of sustainable agricultural innovations.
The event focused on the 40 percent of the world that, like Arizona, produces food and other bio-based products in arid environments. Sponsored by the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority, the forum highlighted the Middle East and Africa.
The UA was the official Knowledge Partner for the event – the only university selected to play this major role. The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, via its Global Initiative for Strategic Agriculture in Dry Lands, worked in cooperation with the UA Office of Global Initiatives to coordinate the UA's participation. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation served as Global Development Partner.
More than 3,200 participants from 62 countries attended the February event, including most of the ministers of agriculture and natural resources for African and Middle Eastern nations, along with leaders of international agriculture research centers, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations.
“The UA was selected as Knowledge Partner based on our long-standing, world-class expertise in agriculture and in the other life sciences in arid and semi-arid lands,” said Joel Cuello, professor of biosystems engineering, GISAD lead, UA liaison to the forum and GFIA 2014 steering committee member.
“The event highlighted the visibility and global reputation of the University of Arizona in agriculture and life sciences in the Middle East among stakeholders, including governments, businesses, investors, producers, universities, students and the general public,” Cuello added.
The forum featured a first-of-its-kind technical demonstration zone created by the UA showcasing working models of "big ideas" and technologies developed by academic institutions, NGOs and businesses worldwide. The zone was limited to a select 150 innovations from across the world aimed at helping billions of people improve their nutrition and make better use of natural resources in ways that are economically, socially and environmentally stable.
“In CALS, because we are uniquely the home to all three of the land-grant missions for all of Arizona – instruction, research and extension – we must be especially aware of responding to our region’s issues,” said Shane Burgess, vice provost and CALS dean. “But by doing so we are globally relevant.”
On the first day of the conference, Burgess delivered one of the keynote addresses on the democratization of knowledge through cyberinfrastructure to improve plant and animal production and human health. He was also one of six panelists from around the world discussing financial investment decisions in food, agriculture and bio-products.
“Part of our job is to solve problems through invention and then take these inventions to the marketplace where they become innovations that change the world, in big ways and sometimes not so big ways,” Burgess said. “The GFIA meeting shows that we are globally relevant and helped us achieve all of these things.”
In addition to Burgess, four CALS faculty were among those selected to give the 150 invited presentations on innovative technologies. They included:
- Cuello, who introduced the Accordion photobioreactor, a UA-patented technology for algae production that is exclusively licensed to Biopharmia AS.
- Post-doctoral research associates Takanori Hoshino and Sara Kuwahara and master’s candidate Cody Lee Brown assisted in setting up and staffing the prototype display in the innovation zone sponsored by the UA.
- Kevin Fitzsimmons, professor of soil, water and environmental sciences, discussed the integration of agriculture and aquaculture as a critical method of producing more seafood and making more efficient use of fresh water and saltwater resources.
- Gene Giacomelli, director of the Controlled Environment Agriculture Center and professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering, described technological opportunities for indoor food growing systems that included working examples of South Pole and lunar applications.
- Randy Burd, assistant vice president, UA Global Initiatives, and associate professor of nutritional sciences, discussed next-generation sequencing – the capacity to rapidly sequence large, complex genomes – to assist in the treatment of human and animal diseases and in improving crop production.