From security to systems: J-WAFS name change reflects its breadth and impact

The terms “food system” or “water system” refer to the broad array of activities, resources, and technologies — as well as policies and economics — involved in the production, processing, transport, and consumption or use of food and water.  These terms encompass issues such as food and water safety, access to fertilizer, water purification, climate change, and the sustainability of water supplies and food production systems. 

Water and food security, which is generally defined as providing all people access to sufficient clean water and safe and nutritious food, is an important aspect of our local, national, and global food and water systems.

That’s why the Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab has announced it is changing its name to the Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab, reflecting the broader range of challenges embodied by the terms “food systems” and “water systems.”  It retains the acronym “J-WAFS,” by which has been known, but will adopt a new tag line: “Securing humankind’s vital resources.”

J-WAFS was founded in 2014 by MIT and Community Jameel, the social enterprise organization, to leverage the Institute’s strengths in order to find solutions to global-scale challenges that our water and food systems are facing, challenges that are exacerbated by climate change, urbanization, and population rise.

J-WAFS catalyzes MIT food and water research that is geared toward real world impact. By awarding seed research grants, supporting commercialization of breakthrough water and food technologies, funding and mentoring graduate students, and convening global experts to set international research and policy agendas, J-WAFS works to advance knowledge and innovation to build resilient systems that can deliver safe and adequate supplies of water and food for our changing world.  

While the name has changed, the same commitment remains, says J-WAFS’ director, Professor John Lienhard.

“Our goal in this name change is to even more accurately represent what we already do. We considered various terms that reflect the range of water and food sector issues that we focus on: supply, safety, solutions, sustainability,” Lienhard says. “Systems was a clear winner for conveying the comprehensive perspective and breadth of our work across the Institute.”

J-WAFS has funded principal investigators from all five schools at MIT. Well over 10 percent of all MIT faculty — from disciplines as diverse as mechanical engineering, chemistry, and anthropology — have submitted proposals for J-WAFS funding.  J-WAFS’ growing portfolio of funded research is driving improvements in:

  • water safety and supply;
  • food safety and supply;
  • agricultural technology (food genetics, fertilizers, irrigation, and packaging);
  • sustainability of food and water systems and the adaptation strategies needed to respond to climate change;
  • energy efficiency of our water and food systems; and
  • economic and policy strategies for resilient water and food supplies.

To date, two companies have spun out of MIT as the result of J-WAFS support, and millions of dollars of follow-on funding have been raised by the recipients of J-WAFS’ seed grants. J-WAFS is helping to build a solutions-oriented research community that will meet humankind’s water and food needs today and in the future even as the goal stays the same: securing water and food, humankind’s vital resources.   

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