The Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab (J-WAFS) at MIT announced on Tuesday a new research project, supported by Community Jameel, to tackle one of the most urgent crises facing the planet – food insecurity. Approximately 276 million people worldwide are severely food insecure, and more than half a million are facing famine conditions.
The three-year research project will seek to better understand and analyze food security by developing a comprehensive index assessing countries’ food security vulnerability, called the Jameel Index for Food Trade and Vulnerability.
Global changes spurred by social and economic transitions, energy and environmental policy, regional geopolitics, conflict, and of course climate change, can impact food demand and supply. The Jameel Index will measure countries’ dependence on global food trade and imports and how these regional-scale threats might affect the ability to trade food goods across diverse geographic regions.
A main outcome of the research will be a model to project global food demand, supply balance, and bilateral trade under different likely future scenarios, with a focus on climate change. The work will help guide policymakers over the next 25 years while the global population is expected to grow, and the climate crisis is predicted to worsen.
The work will be the foundational project for the J-WAFS-led Food and Climate Systems Transformation (FACT) Alliance, a global network of 20 leading research institutions and stakeholder organizations who are driving research and innovation and informing better decision-making for healthy, resilient, equitable, and sustainable food systems in a rapidly changing climate.
J-WAFS fuels research, innovation, and cross-disciplinary collaborations focused on water and food systems to meet human needs. Through early-stage research grants, support for technology commercialization, sponsored research management, student funding and mentorship, and events that convene local and global experts, J-WAFS leverages the world-class resources for which MIT is known.
The Food and Climate Systems Transformation (FACT) Alliance, on the other hand, is a first-of-its-kind initiative, connecting researchers, the private sector, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), farming communities, and government to drive innovation and inform better decision making for resilient and sustainable food systems. The effort is led by Greg Sixt, J-WAFS research manager for food and climate systems, and consists of 17 global member institutions at the vanguard of research and policy on climate change and food systems.
The project will consist of two phases. The first phase will develop a comprehensive Global Food System Modeling Framework that takes into consideration climate and global changes projected out to 2050, and assesses their impacts on domestic production, world market prices, and national balance of payments and bilateral trade. To achieve harmonized projections of global food demand and supply balance, and bilateral trade under climate and global change.
On a national level, the researchers will enrich the Jameel Index through country-level food security analyses at sub-national regional scales and across various socioeconomic groups, allowing key populations to be targeted in the modeled nation. The research will present vulnerability scores for a variety of food security metrics for 126 countries.
Meanwhile, the second phase will entail a number of deeper, country-level analyses to assess the role of food imports on future hunger, poverty, and/or equity across various regional and socioeconomic groups within the modeled countries.
Greg Sixt, Director of the FACT Alliance at J-WAFS, said: “Current models are really good at showing global food trade flows, but we don’t have systems for looking at food trade between individual countries and how different food systems stressors such as climate change and conflict impact that,” says Greg Sixt of J-WAFS and the FACT Alliance. “This timely index will be a valuable tool for policymakers to understand the vulnerabilities to their food security from different shocks in the countries they import their food from. The project will also illustrate the stakeholder-guided, transdisciplinary approach that is central to the FACT Alliance,” Sixt adds.
George Richards, Director of Community Jameel, said: “Just like in the global response to COVID-19, using data and modeling are critical to understanding and tackling vulnerabilities in the global supply of food. The Jameel Index for Food Trade and Vulnerability will help inform decision-making to manage shocks and long-term disruptions to food systems, with the aim of ensuring food security for all.”
Few countries are immune to threats to food security from sudden disruptions in food production or trade. The level of interconnectedness of the Earth’s food systems are and how vulnerable they remain to external shocks has become more apparent than ever. The need for this project is evidenced by the hundreds of millions of people around the globe currently experiencing food shortages.
While several factors contribute to food insecurity, climate change is one of the most notable. Devastating extreme weather events are increasingly crippling crop and livestock production around the globe. Social, political, and economic issues also disrupt food systems, while the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain disruptions, and inflation also continue to exacerbate food insecurity.
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