One of the defining features of the global economic recovery has been the growth in the gap between the rich and the poor. In some of the fast-growing markets, including parts of sub-Saharan Africa, rapid economic growth has made significant progress in infrastructure development in areas such as health and education.

However, economic growth has not lifted nearly enough people out of poverty – particularly with regards to access to food and clean drinking water.

The need to find sustainable food and water solutions in some of the more remote parts of the world, often in the undeveloped countries, is exacerbated by the effects of climate change – drought and crop failures are an increasingly common feature in parts of Africa. However, it isn’t just in undeveloped countries – crops are failing year on year in Australia and the United States.

So finding food and water solutions is a challenge of global proportions – which is why a new program launched in April 2015 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab (J-WAFS) is so important.

The new program, called ‘J-WAFS Solutions’ will provide initial start-up funding to individuals or companies that identify new technologies intended to improve food supplies or meet the demand for clean water for up to 15 projects over the next five years.

In July 2015, J-WAFS announced its first round of seed grant funding to the MIT community and in October, J-WAFS Solutions awarded its first two  commercialization grants of US$ 150,000 each. The two projects are:

– Fouling-Resistant Nanoporous Membranes PI: Jeffrey Grossman, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering

– A Multiplex, Nanosensor Platform for the Real Time Monitoring of Food and Water-Borne Contaminants PIs: Michael S. Strano, Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering; Anthony J. Sinskey, Professor of Microbiology and Health Sciences & Technology

Programs such as these demonstrate what can be achieved when academic and research-based organizations such as MIT join forces with commercial companies and community initiatives. Addressing food and water scarcity is now a global challenge. The positive contribution that is being made through this collaboration has the capacity to make a profound impact on human welfare across the world.

“Drought and crop failures are an increasingly common feature in parts of Africa. However, it isn’t just in undeveloped countries – crops are failing year on year in Australia and the United States.”