There are twenty-four presenters at Global Food+ 2017, and they hail from eight schools across the northeastern United States: Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northeastern, Boston University, Tufts, Cornell, Bard, and the University of Vermont. Their disciplines span a wide range, from ecology to sociology to public policy, and more. 

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image of Christopher BarrettChris Barrett

SB&JG Ashley Professor of Applied Economics, Cornell University.
Contact:  E-mail  |  Web  |  Twitter

"Poverty, Progress and Puzzles in African Agriculture"

Abstract: Africa is the world’s most agrarian and poorest continent. So agriculture is central to economic growth and poverty reduction in Africa. Africa is now growing faster than Asia, with many of the world’s fastest growing economies. Yet it is also now home to a majority of the world’s ultra-poor (those living on ≤$0.95/day per capita) and the only world region where the absolute number of the ultra-poor grew since the 1980s. So what’s going on? I report briefly on recent research demonstrating several micro-level puzzles that help us unpack this seeming paradox. First, what is commonly thought to be substantial intersectoral labor productivity turn out to be illusory in high quality micro data. They may be employment gaps rather than productivity gaps. Second, uptake of modern inputs is highly uneven among and even within households. Some of this is plausibly rational, even though this can lead to a poverty trap. Differential input (including, perhaps especially labor) application also leads to well-established inverse size-productivity relationships, although the underlying mechanisms driving those relationships remain poorly understood. Resolution of these puzzles can help promote more inclusive, agriculture-driven growth and poverty reduction in Africa.

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image of Mary BeaudryMary Beaudry

Professor of Archaeology & Gastronomy, Boston University.
Contact:  E-mail  |  Web  |  Twitter

"Digging Up Dinner: Gastronomical Archaeology"

Abstract: Gastronomical archaeology enriches the representation of the archaeology of food in food studies more broadly through an approach to the archaeology of early modern and modern food and foodways that involves more than an exploration of past diet or of what sorts of foods a given culture consumed.  It is a multi- if not interdisciplinary pursuit incorporating examination of the ways that people experience meals and mealtimes in addition to recording what they ate, providing an essential layer for understanding the socio-cultural significance of past meals as well as for interpreting and understanding them in broader context, as opposed to merely to reconstructing them. Gastronomical archaeology draws upon several recent currents of archaeological thought, moving beyond discussions of food and foodstuffs to explore menus, meals, and dining by drawing together many lines of evidence—excavated food remains such as bones, seeds, shells, microscopic residues, pollen, phytoliths, and even genetic material; documentary sources including pictorial evidence; and ceramics, glassware, and utensils. Gastronomical archaeology is a framework through which archaeologists can investigate not just nutrition or ingredients but the experiences of dining, in specific contexts, from ordinary and every-day meals to elaborate feasts, all of which played important roles in the negotiation of social positioning and identity.

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image of Alex BlanchetteAlex Blanchette

Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Tufts University.
Contact:  E-mail  |  Web  

"How Industrialized Animals Remake People and Places"

Abstract: Most tend to frame the industrialization of American animal life using a discourse of alienation, control, and containment from surrounding communities — of increasing degrees of distance between species due to indoor confinement. Based on ethnographic research in and around some of the world’s largest corporate-owned animal facilities — sites where over 7,000,000 hogs are annually birthed, raised, and killed — this talk contends otherwise. It analyzes, instead, the kinds of workplace intimacies between species that have become necessary to sustain industrial meat. Describing the labor process of factory farms from the perspective of specialized workers who tend only to pigs’ hormonal states, skins, or reproductive instincts, I suggest how workers in these facilities are accruing historically unprecedented knowledge of specific aspects of animal life, along with the ways that this might push us to remake the terms of critique of these operations.  In so doing, I argue that industrial animal production is less a matter of reducing labor inputs as it is intensifying them, concentrating the vitality of millions of beings onto the laboring actions of a small number of people. 

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Image of Christopher BossoChristopher Bosso

Professor of Public Policy and Politics, Northeastern University.
Contact:  E-mail  |  Web  |  Twitter

"Why Food Stamps are in the Farm Bill. Should They Stay There?"

Abstract: Starting with the Food and Agricultural Act of 1973, a shrinking congressional farm bloc has kept food stamps (now the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) as a title in successive versions of the Farm Bill to maintain the votes of legislators from urban areas for agricultural commodity programs they might otherwise oppose. This formal logroll also ensured support of rural conservatives for federal nutrition programs they might otherwise oppose. Efforts by “Tea Party” conservatives to detach the two during the battle over the 2014 farm bill failed, but are expected to recur when the farm bill goes up for reauthorization in the 115th Congress. Those who advocate “segregating” SNAP into a stand-alone bill argue that votes on the program should be based on its intrinsic merits, not its role as the lynchpin holding the Farm Bill together. This logic is viewed warily by defenders of SNAP, not to mention by farm bloc legislators worried about keeping urban support for commodity programs. I will discuss the logic behind these competing views as refracted through lessons obtained from the 1995-96 battles over keeping food stamps in the Farm Bill and the subsequent passage of the Transitional Assistance for Needy Families Act.

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Image of Amy DaleAmy Dale

Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Contact:  E-mail  |  Web  

"Crop Production and Irrigation Water Demand In Africa In a Changing and Uncertain Climate"

Abstract: Almost a quarter of the world’s malnourished population lives in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).  Unfortunately, nations in this region are expected to experience substantial future changes in agricultural production due to climate change.  Maize is the most widely produced crop in SSA by harvested area and is also the most calorically important.  As a drought-sensitive species, it is also one of the crops that is most likely to be negatively impacted by future changes in precipitation.  This is especially true in SSA, where the vast majority of cereal crop production relies on rainfall rather than irrigation.  I will present predicted regional and national trends in maize yields and maize demand for irrigation water in SSA under 122 possible climate futures.  I will identify the major sources of uncertainty in our predictions and discuss their implications for the development of appropriate risk management and climate change adaptation strategies.  Finally, I will introduce our current efforts to integrate models of crop growth with models of water systems in order to elucidate the benefits and limitations of proposed expansions to irrigation infrastructure.

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Image of Christina EconomosChristina Economos

Director, ChildObesity180; Professor, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University.
Contact:  E-mail  |  Web  

"Blending the Rigor of Science with the Innovation of Business to Reverse the Trend of Childhood Obesity"

Abstract: Childhood obesity is a complex problem that cannot be solved by a single sector or quick fix.  Believing that this issue demands a fresh approach, the founders of ChildObesity180 brought together a cross-sector group of leaders to identify innovative and integrated solutions with the potential to address childhood obesity on a national scale.

Housed at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, ChildObesity180 merges the best in nutrition and public health research and practice with expertise from business, government, and nonprofit leaders. Since 2009, ChildObesity180 has developed, implemented, evaluated, and scaled high-impact obesity prevention initiatives that have reached more than 9.3 million children nationwide.

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Image of Gidon EshelGidon Eshel

Research Professor of Environmental Physics, Bard College.
Contact:  E-mail  |  Web  


Abstract: As is universally known, our diet impacts our health. Less known, but equally true, is that our diet also has a lot to say about our environmental footprint. My work rigorously unifies the dual quest for better health and lower environmental impacts by identifying nutritionally-environmentally optimal diets, ones that minimize resources use and likelihood of degenerative diseases. My earlier work has identified beef as the most resource intensive of all human food. Yet beef's popularity remains mostly intact. It is thus interesting to try to identify a "sustainable" beef production path. In my talk I will devise one such path, neither definitive nor unique, and calculate (1) how much of this sustainable beef the US can produce; and (2) the environmental and health impacts of a shift from the current beef to the "sustainable" variety. Cutting beef consumption to 1/3 of today's consumption, and using the sustainable pathway, would spare ≈0.4 billion rangeland and ≈80 million cropland acres while annually reducing CO2eq emissions by 270 billion kg, fertilizer use by 3 billion kg, and irrigation by 30 billion m3. This will significantly improve biodiversity and public health while eliminating 20–30 percent of the US cropland, water and fertilizer use.

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Image of Rachael GarrettRachael Garrett

Assistant Professor, Department of Earth and Environment, Boston University.
Contact:  E-mail  |  Web  

"The Role of Supply Chains In Agricultural Conservation and Development"

Abstract: When most people consume food in their own home they are not aware of the complex journey it has taken to reach their plate. The nature of this journey and its social and environmental consequences are largely determined by the structure and governance of the supply chain that connects the farmer to the food retailer and eventually to the consumer. My work centers on the supply chains for soy and cattle products and their influence on deforestation in South America. I assess how the economic geography of supply chain infrastructure and voluntary environmental commitments made by food retailers and traders influence agricultural intensification, expansion, and deforestation in the Amazon, Cerrado, and Chaco ecological biomes of South America. The goal of this work is to identify the ways that public policy makers can leverage the existing features of these supply chains to reduce deforestation, while producing more food. My work also aims to inform the sourcing practices of major multinational food companies and help them improve their environmental commitments. For more information check out my website: http://rachaeldgarrett.weebly.com and http://www.bu.edu/earth/people/faculty/rachael-garrett/. 

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Image of Nina GheihmanNina Gheihman

PhD Candidate in Sociology, Harvard University.
Contact:  E-mail  |  Web  

"Innovation as Activism: The Case of Veganism in the United States, France, and Israel"

Abstract: How does a marginalized cultural practice enter into the mainstream? I analyze the case of veganism—the non-consumption of animal products. Previous research is mostly confined to one society, ignoring how globalized social movements are mediated through national contexts. I compare three countries that represent different levels of interest in veganism: medium in the US (2.5% of the population self-identifies as “vegan”), low in France (<1%), and high in Israel (5%). Through a cross-national, multi-method comparative project, I show how each setting presents a complex configuration of cultural and institutional factors that foster and stall the movement in different ways, and how the cultural practice maps onto debates around ideological purity and innovation, elitism and populism, pacifism and militarism, nationalism and globalization. In the US, arguments around health and environment have more resonance, while in France and Israel ethical concerns are paramount. Despite these divergences, the common thread across contexts is the transformation of activism itself thorough the emergence of a new brand of promoters I term cultural brokers. Unlike largely marginalized animal rights activists of the past, these savvy cosmopolitan elites do not work through social movement organizations (SMOs), but instead promote veganism through three types of cultural work: production of meaning, production of knowledge, and production of consumption. This transformation has roots in the historical shift of the animal rights movement from issues such as fur and vivisection to farmed animals, which centered activism on diet. With the focus on food, the social movement field intersected with others that did not necessarily share its ideological principles. While this created rifts within the movement itself in local contexts, it also created the potential for the movement to grow on a global scale. 

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Image of Kelsey JackB. Kelsey Jack

Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, Tufts University.
Contact:  E-mail  |  Web 

"Seasonal Agricultural Markets"

Abstract: Small-scale farming remains the primary source of income for a majority of the population in developing countries. In rainfed agricultural settings, income typically arrives only once a year. At the same time, rural households often lack access to financial instruments such as savings accounts or loans. As a result, smoothing harvest income over the rest of the year is a challenge. One result is highly seasonal rural markets, with grain prices and agricultural wages that fluctuate with the agricultural calendar, and a distinct “hungry season” in the months preceding the harvest. 

I will describe how seasonal markets affect agricultural incomes in rural Africa, and the role that credit and savings play in driving seasonal variation in prices. In particular, I will discuss recent work in Zambia that investigates one coping strategy that households use to meet cash needs during the hungry season. Farming households rely on the casual labor market as a source of immediate cash when savings are depleted and credit is not available. We provide evidence that this strategy of selling family labor off the farm to meet short run needs lowers subsequent agricultural production. Policies that help farmers smooth their income over the year may not only improve nutrition but may also have positive impacts on agricultural output.

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Image of Anthony JanetosAnthony Janetos

Director, Pardee Center, Boston University.
Contact:  E-mail  |  Web  |  Twitter

"Multiple Breadbasket Failure"

Abstract: Price shocks in the global agricultural market for commodity crops have been in the news over the past several decades, triggered by rapid productivity declines in major producing regions. But as we move into an altered climate system that raises the likelihood of damaging and persistent regional droughts, understanding how the consequences of such events ripples through global agricultural trading systems becomes increasingly important. We are using the integrated assessment model, GCAM (Global Change Assessment Model) to calculate the regional effects of shocks occurring in single production regions, multiple production regions, single crops, multiple crops, and all the combinations for wheat, maize, and rice. Furthermore, because GCAM can simulate both a base case (no climate policy) and a climate policy case, in which terrestrial carbon has large economic value, we can explore the differences between those two policy scenarios.

We track land allocation, food prices, terrestrial carbon emissions, and other parameters in these experiments. Not all regions respond identically – some are rather unresponsive in terms of land allocated to agriculture, largely because most of the available land is already being used for production. Terrestrial carbon emissions are mostly a function of how much additional forested land is converted to agriculture, and although climate policy has an effect, it is surprisingly small and delayed until later in the twenty-first century.

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Image of Sae Yun KwonSae Yun Kwon

Postdoctoral Associate in the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 
Contact:  E-mail  |  Web 

"Mercury in Rice: Impacts on Food Security in China"

Abstract: Ensuring food security into the future, especially in industrializing regions, will involve not just ensuring sufficient supply and distribution, but also ensuring that food remains safe for human consumption. A key pollutant that can cause health impacts in humans is mercury, which is released into the atmosphere via coal-fired electricity generation and other industrial activities. As methylmercury (MeHg), it is toxic and bioaccumulative, and can cause neurotoxic impacts. Recently, rice—a staple food for over half the global population—was identified as a potential MeHg exposure pathway to humans. In China, MeHg exposure via rice ingestion is becoming an emerging food security issue. China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of rice as well as the largest source of mercury pollution in the world. Despite this, there has been little attention to exploring this problem to better understand where and when this contamination can affect food security. In particular, this is because mercury sources, deposition, and biogeochemical processes governing MeHg bioaccumulation in rice are complex and vary in time and space. Our research seeks to better understand the issue of MeHg in rice, from the perspective of food security, by linking environmental modeling with economic cost analysis of MeHg contamination. The outcome of this project will be a greater understanding of present and projected future changes in MeHg levels in rice and potential impacts to food security. Results will enable identifying policy recommendations and remediation strategies for minimizing risks, and will be communicated with local and national communities in China.

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Image of Charles MaceCharles Mace

Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Tufts University.
Contact:  E-mail  |  Web  |  Twitter

"Low Cost, Paper-Based Devices Enable Quality Assurance of Premixed Cereals"

Abstract: To sustain healthy growth, infants must complement breast milk with solid foods that are dense in nutrients. In low-income communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America, sufficiently nutritious cereals are often prepared from local ingredients in a composite flour that includes fortificants or a micronutrient premix. This blending process can produce a highly variable product and result in dangerously low levels of sentinel nutrients. Although the desire for quality control is recognized, existing tests for nutrient composition are expensive and must be performed by skilled technicians in highly regulated environments. While there is an outstanding need for families to know that the nutritional content of these cereals is adequate for their children, local communities lack the infrastructure to conduct such tests. To address this need, we are developing an assay to measure the concentrations of protein, iron, and zinc in infant cereals using devices fabricated from paper and tape. These paper-based devices are exceptionally inexpensive to manufacture, produce results that are easy to interpret, and can be operated by a user base wi1th broad educational backgrounds. Our goal is to sharply reduce the cost and difficulty of testing for sentinel nutrients, so that local laboratories can provide low-cost quality assurance services for infant foods.


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Image of Chandra MadramootooChandra A. Madramootoo

Visiting Scholar, JWAFS Lab; Visiting Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Contact:  E-mail  |  Web  

"Overcoming Water and Food Insecurity"

Abstract: Water availability is one of the major constraints to achieving global food security, and meeting world food demands by the year 2050.  Freshwater withdrawals for agriculture are in excess of 70% of all water withdrawn in several countries in Middle East and North Africa, and South Asia. The two largest irrigated and populous countries, India and China, are also confronted by water scarcity, and puts agricultural production into jeopardy. Water could be a major contributor to food insecurity in China and India.

Technological advances in water conservation, and more precise management of soil-water in the crop root zone are required in order to ensure adequate water for food production. Advanced sensors, and precision irrigation are some of the technological advancements that will be presented at the Symposium.  

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image of James McCannJames McCann

Professor of History, Boston University.
Contact:  E-mail  |  Web  

"Environmental History: Utopias and Dystopias in the Nile's Endorheic Food Future"

Abstract: Visions about food are also visions about water. In 1869, visionary Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues under the Sea described the submarine Nautilus’s imaginary voyage from Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea in an underwater natural tunnel full of wonders. 1869 was also, ironically, the year of the opening of the Suez canal, Frenchman M. Lessops’ engineering feat that Verne’s mythical but prophetic Captain Nemo exclaimed “before long will have changed Africa into an immense island.” Lessop the real life engineer had, Nemo said, “triumphed” through “the genius of will.”

Jules Vernes’ vision was of a world of progress and human curiosity in which technology recognized nature and its wonderments and sought to use it. His imagination of the movements under Sinai ecology juxtaposed the promise of the Suez Canal with a natural waterway that allowed the movement of fish and people and food for a growing population. In 1869, the Nile and its wider catchments were also a part of a Utopian vision for human food futures.

The Nile’s biological endemism at the heart of its food production capacity may soon be a thing of the past. The modern Nile as a whole has moved decidedly toward a endorheic (an inland drainage basin that does not drain into an ocean) system. Its endemic fish—e.g., Labeobarbus, Garra, Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus tana)—are historical icons of a diminishing watershed ecology that had long nurtured birds, human cultures, and domesticated plants. Yet recent development actions are part of a phalanx of development forces changing the watery landscape across time in ways that have dramatically altered ecosystem services that may portend future world sub-tropical systems. Tracing the history of the Nile fishes’ aquatic interactions over centuries, and now decades, merges histories of water with human food outcomes.

The Nile has moved from its natural setting to one of competing development states. Jules Vernes' novel foresaw a natural flow of water in nature’s balance alongside the new canal as a triumph of modernist engineering. In 2017, we can foresee nature’s hand in terms of climate change that may diminish the south to north flow of waters from the Nile’s watershed into the delta to an endorheic future—i.e., a flow that no longer refreshes the Mediterranean nor serves as the lifeblood of irrigated grains and fish—food that nourishes growing human populations that seek grain, fish, and sustenance. In the world of nature, IPCC’s model for rainfall change in the next decades projects a potential loss of 25–30 percent of moisture in historically productive agricultural zone.

If Jules Vernes’ 1869 was a denouement of Utopian triumph of peace over war, human achievement over nature’s restraints, the year 2069—or sooner—may be one of food scarcity, conflict, and dystopic politics.

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image of Dennis McLaughlinDennis McLaughlin

H.M. King Bhumibol Professor of Water Resource Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Contact:  E-mail  |  Web  

"Key Issues in Sustainable Food Security"

Abstract: Much has been written about a looming global food crisis that will result from a mismatch between supply and demand. This mismatch is likely to be more severe in regions and communities dependent on subsistence agriculture than for the globe as a whole.  These regions often do not have the means to import enough food to feed rapidly growing populations. The comments in this talk focus on the supply side and, especially, on options for increasing agricultural production in developing regions.  These options fall broadly into three categories – 1) expand crop land, 2) increase crop yield, especially where there are significant gaps between observed and attainable yields, and 3) more efficiently allocate limited resources such as land and water. Cropland expansion is often dismissed by critics concerned with the environmental implications of land clearing and by researchers who maintain that there is relatively little productive land left for expansion. Those who focus on increasing yield typically advocate (or imply) expanded use of fertilizers, pesticides, genetically modified crops, and more efficient irrigation methods. All of these interventions can be helpful but all require significant investment and most can have adverse environmental impacts (e.g. nutrient loading in waterways, pesticide toxicity, and increased soil salinity). Consequently, advocates of yield intensification typically stipulate that yield gaps must be closed in a “sustainable” fashion. While this is a worthy goal, there is not much quantitative evidence that the yield increases required to meet projected demand can be sustainable with current (or even foreseeable) technology. In fact, there is debate about whether or not current yields are sustainable.  Our preliminary assessments suggest that the third option, reallocation of land and water resources, may provide a greater increase in production than either of the other alternatives, at least in certain contexts. Here we briefly consider all three options, with an emphasis on their relevance for agriculture in developing regions.

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Image of Nathan MuellerNathan D. Mueller

Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University.
Contact:  E-mail  |  Web  |  Twitter

"Cropland Productivity Growth: Environmental Impacts and Consequences for Food Security"

Abstract: A combination of new crop varieties, increased fertilizer use, irrigation expansion, and other agronomic changes have allowed substantial increases in food production on existing croplands over the past 50 years. I will present new research detailing some surprising impacts of this productivity growth on both biophysical and social systems. In the first study, we show that the relationship between cropland productivity and crop water use alters the surface energy balance and has suppressed extreme temperature trends over many major crop production regions. This relationship may alter the expected impacts of climate change, and historical cooling of extremely hot summer temperatures appears to have benefited maize yields in the US. In the second study, we examine the diffusion of modern crop varieties and their relationship with infant mortality, using detailed cropland maps and survey data about 600,000 births throughout the developing world. The diffusion of modern varieties is significantly related to a reduction in infant mortality, providing new evidence about the importance of cropland productivity growth and the merits of continued investment in agricultural technology.

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Ken Strzepek

Research Scientist, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Adjunct Professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government; Non-Resident Senior Research Fellow, UNU-WIDER; Professor Emeritus, University of Colorado at Boulder.

"Threats to Food Security in Southern Africa: Energy-Environment-Economics"

Abstract: Africa is seeing strong competition for investment funds among its key civil Infrastructure sectors.  Food production is the in the midst of this battle for resources. But what is not clear is that in the Water-Food-Energy-Environment Nexus food is losing out in the battle for water resources. This talk will highlight some of the threats to Food Security in Africa as priorities are placed on Clean-carbon-free renewable energy, environmental protection and urbanization over food production. Finally, a framework for analyzing this the food security issues from an integrated economy-wide perspective (SACRED) using modeling tools from engineering, earth science and economics will be introduced and opportunities for collaboration identified.

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image of Meredith NilesMeredith Niles

Assistant Professor at the University of Vermont.
Contact:  E-mail  |  Web  |  Twitter

"Achieving Food Security in a Changing Climate"

Abstract: Agriculture and food systems will be potentially heavily affected by climate change. These effects are slated to fall most heavily on smallholder farmers across the developing world, many of whom are already vulnerable to changing conditions and experience food insecurity. As a result, it is critical to assess how communities may work together to overcome these challenges and respond to climate impacts on livelihoods and food security.  This requires understanding social capital at multiple scales- both how farmers and community organizations, governments and private industry work within these regions.  An understanding of how these relationships are structured and the extent to which they collaborate can inform development strategies and effective programs for climate change and agriculture.

This research examines through social network analysis how organizations in 14 communities across three regions in West Africa, East Africa, and Asia work together on projects related to climate change, agriculture and food security.  Using data from the CGIAR Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security program, we find three distinct network structures that demonstrate clear differences in the way that organizations within communities collaborate. Furthermore, we examine how these organizational networks and social capital relate to smallholder farmer group membership within these same communities.  Our results suggest clear correlations between dense and collaborative organizational networks and group membership among smallholder farmers, which are positively related to food security.

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Image of Rob PaarlbergRobert Paarlberg

Adjunct Professor of Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School.
Contact:  E-mail  |  Web  

"Why We Grow GMOs for Animals, but Not People"

Abstract: National academies of science in all rich countries have yet to find any new risks to human health or to the environment from genetically modified crops (called GMOs), yet over the past two decades the regulation of these crops has gone in different directions within Europe’s sphere of influence (where planting or importing these crops is often not allowed) versus the United States and most of the Western Hemisphere (where more permissive regulations have been adopted). Yet international trade has softened the result of these differences in a curious way.   

Because the United States exports some of its food crops (like wheat and rice) to countries that have adopted Europe’s highly restrictive views of GMOs, farmers in the Western Hemisphere have opted voluntarily not to plant such crops in a GMO form. At the same time, because livestock producers in Europe depend on imports from the Western Hemisphere of animal feed crops like corn and soy that are planted in GMO form, European governments have decided not to restrict the import and feeding of such GMOs to food animals. Nor have they required GMO labels on the meat, milk, and eggs that come from such animals.

As a result, the United States and Europe have emerged in exactly the same place when it comes to consuming GMO crops: no for food crops, but yes for feed crops. But this is not a happy outcome, because it means poor farmers in developing countries (who plant and consume food crops like wheat and rice, not animal feed crops) have been almost entirely excluded from the productivity gains GMOs can provide.

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Image of Sarah PhillipsSarah T. Philipps

Associate Professor of History, Boston University.
Contact:  E-mail  |  Web  

"The 1960s Origins of the American Farm Bill"

Abstract: In the post-World War II era, agricultural surpluses created a vast material problem that provoked the legislative marriage of commodity price supports and food assistance. In 1959, grain storage made up the third largest item on the federal budget. This structural, material problem prompted a genuine yet now-forgotten debate among political liberals over whether this abundance should be curtailed to benefit owner-operated “family” farmers, or whether unlimited production and an agribusiness infrastructure would better facilitate lower prices for consumers and food assistance for the poor at home and abroad. After the Kennedy administration attempted to bring surpluses under control in 1963, and was narrowly denied the opportunity to transform farm policy, distribution-minded liberals created the legislative fusion of agricultural subsidies and food assistance that has remained in place. While my research makes scholarly and not practical contributions, it nonetheless makes sense to uncover and analyze the liberal impulses that gave rise to a system that now seems irredeemably shaped by capitalist and corporate forces, and to understand the historical reasons for the remarkable endurance of a farm and food policy framework that so many public health, social justice, and environmental reformers now consider out of date.

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Image of Elsie SunderlandElsie Sunderland

Thomas D. Cabot Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering, Harvard University.
Contact:  E-mail  |  Web  


"Impacts of Environmental Change on Contaminants in Seafood"

Abstract: Capture fisheries provide one of the world’s last wild foods and are essential sources of protein and nutrients for many populations globally. Many chemical compounds released by human activities are accumulated in marine food webs, reaching levels a million times or more at higher trophic levels than those in seawater. This means that what may appear to be small changes in chemical concentrations in the environment can result in large changes in your seafood meals, and reduce the health benefits of this important food source.

Global climate change has been altering marine ecosystems in many ways.  Temperature increases in surface seawater in many regions are causing fish to consume more, which exacerbates accumulation of contaminants.  This phenomenon is demonstrated by quantitatively looking at recent temperature increases in the Gulf of Maine and resulting increases in methylmercury concentrations across several species.  Shifts in trophic structure (who eats who) also affects levels of contaminants in food webs. When prey species move due to changing temperatures or collapse due to other human influences, it can exacerbate or alternately decrease contaminant levels in predator species, depending on the prey item. Globally, ocean acidification threatens to shift the size distribution of phytoplankton species toward smaller species that accumulate more contaminants at the base of marine food webs in mid-latitude oceans. In the Arctic, effects of climate change are particularly pronounced. There, both large-scale changes in ocean thermohaline circulation and local scale stratification of seawater due to melting ice and increased freshwater inputs are occurring. Our work shows these changes are likely to result in exacerbated concentrations of bioaccumulative contaminants in marine food webs that pose risks to apex predators and indigenous populations. 

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Image of Norbert WilsonNorbert L.W. Wilson

Professor, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Tufts University.
Contact:  E-mail  |  Web  

"Food Waste"

Abstract: We all discard food that is safe and nutritious. We typically do not intend to do so, but we do. Something tells us that we should avoid food beyond its expiration date: Maybe it will make us sick; maybe it will not taste good. Regardless, we toss the food into the bin and move on with our lives. In the U.S., estimates suggest that we waste upwards of 40% of food along the supply chain, with the bulk of that waste at the hands of consumers. What triggers this waste? 

Through a series of experimental auctions. We find that date labels such as “Use by” and “Best by” may shape future valuation of waste but not the actual premediated waste rate. In another experiment, we find that respondents predict that they will waste very little food compared to past experiences. Intensions fail to match past experiences. If we are to reduce consumer food waste, we must address discrepancies caused by external and internal cues.

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Image of Elizabeth WolkovichElizabeth M. Wolkovich

Assistant Professor of Organismic & Evolutionary Biology; Faculty Fellow of the Arnold Arboretum, Harvard University.
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"From Pinot to Xinomavro: The World's Future Winegrowing Regions"

Abstract: Predictions that climate change will cause future declines across a number of crops and increasing shifts of agricultural lands into conservation areas generally ignore the existing diversity present in many crops. Yet such diversity could mitigate predicted declines and spatial shifts. My talk will focus on winegrapes (Vitis vinifera subsp. vinifera)—the world’s most economically important horticultural crop and one that possesses tremendous standing diversity among its over 1,100 different planted varieties (e.g., Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon). Critically, these varieties vary in many traits that affect their responses to climate, such as phenology and heat and drought tolerance. Yet little of this diversity is exploited today. Instead, the winegrape industry has focused in on a small set of recognizable varieties, with many countries planting 70–90 percent of their total hectares with only twelve varieties— representing just 1 percent of the total diversity. I will highlight areas of the globe where this problem is most acute, then suggest how shifts in viticultural practices, and new initiatives by growers and researchers to gather shared data could better prepare the industry to adapt with climate change, while also retaining diversity for future production and breeding. Though the focus here is one crop, the challenges and benefits that we outline extend to many other crops.