Solving Our Water Woes

August 11, 2009


By Whittney

Growing up in the foothills of Southern Ohio, water never seemed to be a problem–it was everywhere I looked.  Our cattle drank straight from the Scioto River, which ran through our back field before it joined the mighty Ohio River ten miles down the road.  I was oblivious to any kind of water crisis that might be taking place in the rest of the world, until traveling to West Africa.

Last summer, I joined a group of fellow Ohio State agriculture students and spent more than a month in the Volta Region of Ghana on a service learning and arts tour. In Ghana, much of the electricity is generated by the Akosombo Dam on Lake Volta, which is the largest man-made lake in the world.  At one time, Akosombo generated enough hydro-electricity to power the majority of West Africa.  Now, due to lower water levels and consistent drought, the dam barely produces enough energy for the citizens of Ghana.   This means during the dry season, the government is sometimes forced to decide amongst the basic needs of people–who will receive electricity, who will stay in the dark and who will get to shower. I had no idea everyday tasks that I take for granted, like showering or washing clothes, were so volatile.

Water issues, in countries like Ghana, go beyond water being unsafe to consume and bottled water being more expensive than any other drink in their market.   This lack of water inhibits the essential needs and everyday tasks of an entire country.

Water dilemmas vary from place to place, making it more difficult to find a cohesive solution.  In some populations, water sanitation is the largest problem, but in others simply having water is an ongoing battle.  During my time at Monsanto, I have had the opportunity to see how challenging it is to address the demands of a crisis as complex as water.  With agriculture accounting for 70 percent of all fresh water usage, Monsanto has been focusing on how to reduce that percentage. But where do you begin?

Recently, I was able to participate in a series of conversations between Monsanto and a group of global leaders–who have long been involved in the water discussions–about what can be done to help solve the crisis. By drawing input from external parties like Stuart Orr, from the World Wildlife Fund, and Dr. David Molden, from the International Water Management Institute, Monsanto is able to look at the water issue in a very holistic manner.  By forming relationships with multiple organizations we are able to fully understand what type of positive impact we can have as a company, and to identify what type of technologies would serve the greatest use to the environment and farmers.

There is not just one problem nor is there just one answer. The more organizations involved in a collaborative effort, the closer we will get to a solution.

Whittney is an intern in the Public Affairs department.  Having grown up on a small cattle farm in Southern Ohio, it was a natural decision to attend The Ohio State University where she is in the process of obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Communications, with a minor in Animal Sciences.  Upon graduation in May, she will enroll in the Agricultural Communications Master’s program at Ohio State, where she will continue her studies and the singing of Hang on Sloopy.  In her free time, Whittney enjoys any and all sports, outdoor adventures, judging 4-H livestock and sewing contests and plotting the perfect cross breeding rotation for dairy cows.

4 Responses to “Solving Our Water Woes”

  1. Tyler Says:

    This is a well timed blog post since only a few days ago the AP reported three Monsanto mines are under superfund authority for polluting the waters of Idaho, with a fourth severely violating the clean water act.

    • Kathleen Says:

      Thanks for reading the blog post on the need for water.

      In mining, selenium comes to the surface in waste rock. If not controlled properly, it can combine with oxygen and water, then water can carry it from the mine site. This issue affects all phosphate mines in the West in one way or another. As our understanding of the movement of selenium has developed, Monsanto has been working with the EPA, Idaho state officials and mining experts to find the best solutions to protect water quality. We are focused on resolving the cases you speak of.

  2. Bailey Says:

    Hey guys,

    I don’t have a specific comment about this post as much as I have a sort of general question about getting in contact with you guys (my interest was piqued by reading Jeff’s post, “I Am Monsanto” – unfortunately, I couldn’t post a comment there, so I’ll try here!)

    I am currently a chemical & biological engineering student at the University of Colorado in Boulder, CO. Naturally, given the demographic and my discipline, I have heard a lot about Monsanto. Indeed, what I have heard, read, and watched has been a little scary, but my father always taught me to be wary of extremists in any form. With politics – or, in this case, social/ethical issues leveraging some degree of political weight – I tend to be more aligned with the left, so I try to be particularly wary of leftist “propaganda”; we are all human, of course, so I can only assume that I’m probably more prone to buy into a story that parallels (perhaps threatens?) my own beliefs more readily than one that does not.

    Probably naturally, my first reaction to all of the negative information that I’ve absorbed regarding Monsanto was anger, disgust, sadness, frustration, etc. I even considered making a t-shirt for about five minutes that said “F*** Monsanto” (I’m giggling at the pettiness – and humanness! – of this now). But, come on! What good would that have done?

    Plus, as an engineer myself, I all but have to bow to the kinds of feats Monsanto has and can continue to accomplish. I am familiar with – and excited by! – the kinds of agricultural benefits that we, as engineers, can manifest; they are enormous, and can do a lot of good in the world , given a few healthy parameters, of course. Monsanto is in a powerful position to do an unparalleled amount of good; frankly, I would like NOT to believe the kinds of things being said about the company. That being said, however, I do know that, often, extremist information presented through any medium is based, to a certain extent, in fact.

    I have since tempered that internal storm, taken my dad’s old adage to heart, and am now posting here because I haven’t yet given you guys a chance. In my mind, the jury is still out on Monsanto. Though what I have seen has illustrated Monsanto in a heavily negative light, my ears and eyes remain open. After all, no reasonable conclusion is ever really met without getting both sides of the story.

    The question, then, is where can we have this open, respectful dialogue? I’ll be waiting with much anticipation!

    Take care.

  3. jg Says:

    I am not so sure about the open a respectful dialogue especially when you are talking to ‘antis’. ( I don’t even think it matters what they are against –pick any hot topic of the day.) It is very difficult to have great dialogue when people are so set one their position they cannot listen and the people shouting the loudest seem to have some agenda. It is also easy to spread and buy into shocking roomers. I am very disheartened there is so much fear of the worst case scenario that will never happen and misinformation being spread around. I do know at Monsanto, where there is a possible problem, the company studies it, addresses it and makes sure nothing is harmful. I have seen this happen many times. By the time the ‘answer’ comes out no one cares (or no one cares to remember the good outcome.) And the reality is Monsanto has no use for bad or harmful products, so everything in tested before it is launched as a product. I am finding that nearly all the things people fear about Monsanto are concerns raised 10 -30 years ago and have been addressed and found that there is no need for concern anymore and findings tend to show extra benefits, like positive environmental impacts.

    I am always a bit skeptical myself. So, I try to find good sources of factual information. I find government agency websites to be good internet sources – USDA, CDC, EPA etc- although they can be difficult to navigate. It is also good to get some historical perspective. People forget (or never knew) that agricultural technology prevents famine and has for centuries. Check out your school library for books on agricultural practices and journal review articles on the subject. Look for subjects like agricultural economics and agricultural pest management. Look for peer reviewed and college textbook type resources. One great thing about being in college is you have access to all kind of very good information. And, when you are not in college, you can visit your local library or university library (state colleges), or extension office to get this type of information. Maybe even try the library of Congress online.

    I know I did not answer your question. This blog page has a few other blog sites Monsanto recommends. I have spent a little time browsing them. They seem to me to have positive tones, which, to me, is refreshing. And personally, I like Monsanto’s blog a lot; the facts are sound.

    BTW, I think you have a wise Dad.

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