What is the Center on Food Security and the Environment (FSE)?

Stanford University's Center on Food Security and the Environment (FSE) is a joint effort of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. The center is also home to the Rural Education Action Program (REAP), which separately manages several ongoing projects in rural China. Eight full-time faculty and staff, supported by a collaborative, interdisciplinary team of more than 30 affiliated fellows, address food security’s global challenges through an applied research portfolio, a focused teaching program, and direct science and policy advising.

What is the mission of FSE?

FSE generates solutions and provides sound policy advice to help alleviate global hunger, poverty, and environmental degradation.

When was FSE founded?

The Center on Food Security and the Environment traces its roots in food research back to the 1920s with the creation of Stanford’s Food Research Institute. The center started as a joint program between the international and environmental initiatives at Stanford in 2005, with food security research organized mainly under the international initiative and environmental research organized mainly under the environment initiative. Just as today, scholars centrally involved with the program had senior fellow appointments within the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI), the Woods Institute for the Environment, and/or professorial positions within university departments. 

Why was it founded? 

Although the world's supply of cereals has doubled in the past forty years, chronic hunger continues to be the silent killer of our time. 20,000 people die each day of causes related to malnutrition and extreme poverty. This outnumbers military and civilian deaths from war over the past twenty years by a factor of at least five to one. The rapid rise in global food prices in 2008 and the accompanying food riots and shortages throughout much of the developing world pushed an additional hundred million people below the poverty line.

As global population and income growth generate greater demands for food and energy, the challenge of feeding the world without depleting the planet’s resources becomes more daunting. Competition for land and water is intensifying. Climate change is already taking a toll on world wheat and corn production, with major implications for food security and economic stability. The recent upheavals in staple food prices, financial markets, and the global economy have only compounded the food security challenge, particularly for the world’s rural poor.

Despite the magnitude of these challenges, there are few university programs in the U.S. that directly address global food security issues. FSE’s team of interdisciplinary scholars are prepared and committed to assisting in this global challenge, and to becoming the premier destination for global food security research.

What is food security?

Food security embraces three important concepts: the consistent and sufficient availability of safe and nutritious foods; assured access to food through poverty alleviation and household income growth; and the ability of individuals to utilize food effectively within the context of their physical health, water supplies, and sanitation. 

Improving food security at global, regional, and local scales requires more than a direct focus on these three pillars of food security. Food security is also intertwined with other key issues, such as governance, national security, gender, education, infectious disease, water and nutrient management, energy trajectories, and climate change. FSE encompasses this broader set of issues to design new solutions to global hunger and environmental degradation, and to provide sound policy advice.

How many faculty and researchers does FSE have?

The center draws together more than 30 Stanford faculty, researchers, and visiting scholars. It has a number of joint and affiliated faculty appointments with all seven schools at Stanford University: Humanities and Sciences, Law, Medicine, Earth Sciences, Education, Engineering, and the Graduate School of Business. Eight full-time FSE faculty and staff currently oversee over 15 major research projects in the U.S., Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

Does FSE grant degrees?

FSE is not a degree-granting institution, but our research fellows currently offer ten food security related courses through other departments at Stanford. These courses can be found under Teaching.

Does FSE offer any distance learning opportunities?

FSE just completed a two-year, 15-lecture Global Food Policy and Food Security Symposium Series. All video lectures and corresponding papers are freely available for download on the FSE website.

How is FSE funded?

The Center currently manages $12 million in grant and program funding, and is supported by a variety of sources including government grants, national and international foundations, endowment funds (including the William Wrigley Senior Fellowship), several innovation funds from within the university, and personal gifts from individual donors.

Does FSE have a political or ideological orientation?

As a university research center, FSE does not represent any political ideology. Rather, it provides independent scholarship that is guided by disciplinary standards of academic excellence. Our scholars produce research that meets the requirements set by peer-reviewed journals, academic presses, and granting foundations, independent of partisan political or commercial interests.

What are FSE’s research and teaching priorities over the next five years?

Over the next five years, we expect to focus on African food systems; on agricultural adaptations to climate variability; on the causes and consequences of China’s rapid rise in aquaculture; on linking with other Freeman Spogli and Woods programs on domestic water use, irrigation, rural health, ocean solutions, and national security; on ensuring that concepts of nutritional security, especially the role of micro-nutrients, are more firmly embedded into Stanford research and teaching; on mentoring the next generation of food-policy leaders through an expanded program of post-doctoral scholars; and on expanding efforts at distance learning with programs in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

What are FSE’s fundraising priorities over the next five years?

To meet the Center’s substantive and financial needs over the next five years, FSE’s fundraising priorities include: endowed funds to provide long-term, stable funding for core research, a named and endowed directorship and additional senior fellowships, and expendable funds to support research, postdoctoral fellowships, and programmatic innovation. If you are interested in giving a gift to FSE, please contact FSI Associate Director for Development, Michelle Townsend.