Food Security

By 2050, the world’s population is estimated to reach 9 billion people. Can we produce enough food to sustain them without irreversibly depleting our lands and waters? Stanford researchers are addressing this and other critical issues of hunger, poverty and environmental degradation by generating vital knowledge and policy-relevant solutions through the Center on Food Security and the Environment (FSE). A joint initiative of Woods and Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, FSE works to connect the dots between water and nutrient management, energy and climate change, national security, gender, education and infectious disease. Its interdisciplinary team of scholars addresses hunger at the global, regional and local scales through a research portfolio focused on seven key areas: food and nutrition security, aquaculture, biofuels, climate and agriculture, agricultural innovations, "deadly connections" and crop and livestock systems. FSE also pursues a robust teaching program and direct science and policy advising by Stanford earth scientists, economists, public health and nutrition specialists, biologists, law and political science experts. Read on for highlights from FSE’s 2014-15 work.


Sustainable palm oil?

Palm oil is one of the world’s fastest growing and most valuable agricultural commodities, but is a leading cause of tropical deforestation. In 2014, an interdisciplinary team of Stanford researchers led by FSE Director and Woods Senior Fellow Rosamund “Roz” Naylor (Earth systems science), launched a three-year study of methods for creating more sustainable palm oil supply that promote economic growth and environmental sustainability in Indonesia and West Africa. Read more.

Chinese aquaculture

As part of Naylor’s ongoing research on Chinese aquaculture and fisheries, she convened and chaired a three-day conference in Beijing covering the future of Chinese fish production and trade, and the industry’s potential to meet Chinese and global food security needs. Naylor and Stanford postdoctoral scholar Ling Cao followed up with a new paper on the potential of Chinese aquaculture to tip the balance in world fish supplies. Read more about the conference and study.

Milestone publications

FSE scholars published two major books in 2014: “Frontiers in Food Policy: Perspectives in sub-Saharan Africa” (edited by Walter Falcon, the Helen Farnsworth Professor of International Agricultural Policy emeritus and Roz Naylor) and “The Evolving Sphere of Food Security” (edited by Naylor). The former is a compilation of papers by participants in the multi-year Global Food Policy and Food Security Symposium Series. The latter is a collaborative effort of 19 Stanford faculty authors to examine the many faces and facets of global food security from a wide range of academic perspectives including law, medicine, political science, international relations, earth sciences and biology. Read more here and here.

Higher yields, less nitrogen

With colleagues from China Agricultural University, Peter Vitousek, the Clifford G. Morrison Professor in Population and Resource Studies (Biology, Woods, FSE) found that farming practices in China can be redesigned to simultaneously improve yields and reduce environmental damages by implementing a system of “integrated soil-crop system management”. The approach allows farmers to use less nitrogen fertilizer and still grow yields high enough to meet China’s rising food security needs. Read more.

Crops and climate risks

A 2014 research paper on climate and global crop yield declines by William Wrigley Senior Fellow David Lobell (Earth system science, FSE), was one of 25 articles selected by the editors of the scientific journal Environmental Research Letters to be featured in the journal’s “Highlights of 2014” collection. Lobell’s recent findings in this area include papers on rising temperatures and falling crop yields; vulnerability of U.S. corn yields to hot, dry weather; and farmers and climate change adaptation. He also co-authored a paper on more powerful and accurate methods for predicting future wheat yields, which included suggestions for avoiding some of the predicted losses.

Warmer temps, more harvests

One agricultural upside of a warmer climate might be the greater potential for additional harvests. A study co-authored by Lobell found that the area of U.S. farmland capable of a two-crop annual harvest grew dramatically as a result of warmer temperatures and later fall freezes. However, gains may be negated by future losses in crop yields expected to come with climate change. Read more.

Lambin honored

Woods Senior Fellow Eric Lambin, the George and Setsuko Ishiyama Provostial Professor, won the Volvo Environment Prize, an award founded in 1988 that has become one of the world’s most prestigious environmental prizes. It is awarded annually to people who have made outstanding scientific discoveries within the areas of environment and sustainable development. Lambin (Earth systems science) was recognized for his work analyzing satellite images of Earth and linking them to socioeconomic data. Read more.

On Camera

Earth Matters - Feeding the world in the 21st century

In an Earth Matters lecture, Professor Rosamond Naylor said that food insecurity arises from a complex and interactive set of factors including poverty, malnutrition, disease, conflict, poor governance and volatile prices. More …

Growing Resilience: Worldview Interviews David Lobell

Worldview interviewed FSE Deputy Director David Lobell about how to reduce the risks raised by homogenous crops and increase resilience in our agricultural system. More …

In The News

Climate Change Will Hit America in the Breadbasket, Scientists Say

Senior Fellow Paul Ehrlich (Biology) notes that little has been done to counter negative trends in food security, even though they've been known...
February 24, 2015 - By Alan Boyle, NBC News

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Meet A Data Scientist Who's Helped Revolutionize Agriculture

Profile of Senior Fellow David Lobell
November 20, 2014 - By Alex Davidson, Forbes

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How to Feed Our Planet Without Devastating the Environment

Quotes Walter Falcon, senior fellow, emeritus, at Woods and deputy director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment, on dealing with food...
July 8, 2014 - By Catherine Cheney, Devex

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Human Price of Forest Destruction Paid in Plague

Senior Fellow James Holland Jones (Anthropology) discusses the need to study disease mechanisms to better understand how diseases are being...
March 4, 2015 - By Niina Heikkinen and ClimateWire, Scientific American

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