Bringing Food and Water To The Desert: ITKI/UNESCO City of Gastronomy Conference on Food & Water in Arid Lands

This article guest written by LFA Intern Hannah Aljuaid

How do we address the challenges of increasing food and water security in our vulnerable arid region?  On November 4th - 5th, the University of Arizona hosts the ITKI/UNESCO City of Gastronomy Conference on Food & Water in Arid Lands to answer these questions.  Sponsored by the International Traditional Knowledge Institute, U.S. Division (ITKI US), this conference seeks to bring together participants from across the globe to share contemporary and traditional knowledge.  Speakers from around the world represent projects as far reaching as ancient Omani water irrigation systems, Andean biological and cultural diversity, seed trusts in Zimbabwe and teachings from the Maori of New Zealand.  The conference connects global visitors  to the practices of indigenous cultures in the West working with Hopi youth on re-learning ancestral techniques on water catchment, farming desert adapted heritage crops from the San Xavier Cooperative Farm located on the Tohono O’odham Nation and water preservation by the Black Mesa Trust.

As a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, Tucson was the ideal place to share cross cultural teachings and practices about food and water challenges.  Mika Galilee-Belfer, the director of Strategic Planning and Special Projects at the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, has taken on a key role in helping organize the conference.  Comments Galilee-Belfer, “Despite the perennial challenges of water scarcity, our own arid and semi-arid region has sustained 4,000 years of continuous agriculture. Such success over millennia requires a deep understanding of earth’s rhythms and a willingness and ability to adapt -- in ways that are both effective at the moment and are also keenly attentive to implications for future generations.”

The goal of the conference is to converse about ways that traditional and modern knowledge of food and water resources can work together to increase future positive outcomes. Galilee-Belfer stresses that by and large, the conference is aimed at educating and inspiring the masses to do their part in creating and sustaining a positive outcome for our current and future environments. Changing our own systems for the better will yield greater positive change everywhere.  

The conference is open to the public free of charge, however space is limited and attendees are required to register in advance online.  In addition to the free programming, the conference also hosts a dinner and reception featuring the flavors and cultures of the Southwest by James Beard Award winning Chef Janos Wilder at the downtown Carriage House and brunch at the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum, with stops to visit some of Tucson's key heritage food sites.  Seating for those events is via advance ticket purchase through the conference website.

Due to the fact that western science has had the upper hand in the past, it is extremely valuable to examine how the integration of these different perspectives can be practiced.  Bringing people together to discuss potential complementarities, conflicts and creative tensions between these funds knowledge…can potentially move us all toward a more just and resilient future in the face of climate change.” comments Gary Paul Nabhan, Founding Director of the Center for Regional Food Studies at the University of Arizona. 

States Galilee-Belfer “Despite the considerable challenges we face in food and water security, I hope attendees leave energized and excited by options for our future in arid lands.”