Elías Fereres, an essential name in the field of agronomy and water engineering in Spain, has collaborated with CIHEAM Zaragoza for over four decades as guest lecturer in the Organization’s masters and advanced courses
Elías Fereres (Larache, Morocco, 1946) is professor emeritus in Plant Production at the Higher Technical School of Agricultural Engineering of the University of Cordoba and researcher at the Institute for Sustainable Agriculture of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) in Cordoba. Not only is Fereres an essential name in Spanish science in the field of agronomy and water engineering but he has also held senior positions related to research administration and management in Spain: President of CSIC (1991-1992) and Secretary of State for Universities and Research of the Ministry of Science and Education (1992-1994), among others.
Within the scope of international cooperation, he has worked for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in more than 20 countries and has been member of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research and consultant for the World Bank and UNESCO, besides other organizations. For almost four decades he has been collaborating as guest lecturer in CIHEAM Zaragoza’s masters and advanced courses.
We spoke with Fereres when he visited us to lecture in the International Master ‘Sustainable Water Management and Governance in Natural and Agricultural Environments’.
-You have reminded our master students that agriculture’s main mission is to feed the world population. What are the main obstacles that need to be overcome?
-The greatest obstacle in feeding people without access to food is poverty. Agriculture has the capacity to produce enough food for the world population, today and in the decades to come, but 10 % of the population are starving, mainly in remote areas. The big challenge that remains to be addressed decisively is to enable these people to have access to food for their welfare. It should be the sole objective of disinterested aid for less-favoured countries.
-In your lectures you have spoken of water productivity in agriculture. On that subject, what particular message do you hope has been captured by these young people, future decision-makers in the field of water management and governance?
-That in water-scarce areas and situations such as those in the Mediterranean basin, water management in agriculture should focus on optimizing water productivity, and not just on production per cubic metre. It should also concentrate on seeking maximum yield of the water consumed with regard to the value of the water produced, and include social aspects such as the additional employment that water for irrigation generates.
MANAGEMENT UNDER SCARCITY. Professor Elías Fereres addressed agricultural water management in dry environments during his lecture at CIHEAM Zaragoza.
-We talk about R&d+i in the agriculture and food sector. In your opinion, what should be the priority lines of research in order to face the sector’s challenges?
-Agricultural research is a success story worldwide and as such should be backed by society in order to face the new challenges of growing food demand. It is necessary to develop innovative practices to make agriculture more sustainable, particularly crop protection and use of limited resources such as water. In our efforts to achieve greater productivity, we shouldn’t abandon conventional plant breeding techniques before the potential contributions of biotechnologies actually materialize.
-Your research work has addressed different aspects of the nexus between water, agriculture and the environment. How would you describe these relationships and why is it important to study these three elements together?
-Water is the backbone that supports agricultural and natural ecosystems and makes them work. Both the agricultural and the environmental sector have hydrological demands that should be harmonized in order to avoid the water deficits threatening the survival of both sectors, and and we should optimize the use of available water. Furthermore, agricultural practices can affect the quality of water that eventually flows into other ecosystems jeopardizing their status. Almost all interactions between agricultural systems and their surrounding ecosystems take place through water, therefore they should be studied in greater detail.
“Agricultural research is a success story worldwide ”
Elías Fereres, researcher and professor emeritus of the University of Cordoba (Spain)
-You have been very active in the field of international cooperation. Based on this experience, what do you think are the main benefits of cooperation in agriculture and water management?
-The greatest benefits can be observed in the improvement of education and training in people we cooperate with. Water management is complex and advances are slow because local knowledge has to be developed, without which it is impossible to improve agricultural water management. I must say that a great deal of progress has been made in building on this local knowledge in recent decades, which is essential for more precise water management and is a pre-requisite for improvement.