Stanford focus on food security expands as hunger worsens


woman pres carrots sc cropped
President of women's farming group in Dunkassa, Benin shares carrots from her garden grown with the help of a solar-powered irrigation system.
Photo credit: 
Jennifer Burney

Despite an increase in food production and incomes worldwide, one in seven of the world’s 7 billion people is hungry.

Upheavals in food prices and the global economy, combined with a growing population’s demands for food and energy, are widening the gap between rich and poor. And that rift is creating new challenges to feed the hungry – most of whom live in remote, rural areas – without depleting the planet’s natural resources.

Stanford’s Center on Food Security and the Environment (FSE) is dedicated to addressing these challenges. Started as a research program in 2006, FSE is celebrating its launch today as a full-scale research center. The celebration is part of a larger conference hosted by the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI) focused on links between international security, food and health care. The institutional elevation signifies the growing importance of food security issues at Stanford and worldwide. And it positions FSE to become the leading academic institution in the field of food security.

“Food security has quickly risen as a critical global issue comparable to international security, global health, and democratization, and will remain a pressing issue in the years head,” said Rosamond L. Naylor, director of FSE. “We’re looking at how to raise people out of poverty so they can afford more food, how to stabilize prices so food isn’t too expensive, and how to grow more food without destroying the environment.”

In an introduction given at FSE’s Global Food Policy and Food Security Symposium Series last winter, Stanford President John Hennessy remarked, “Stanford was founded on the idea that its teaching and research could have a broader impact on society, and the area of food security certainly has that kind of possibility.”

“Our work on hunger, rural poverty, and the environmental impact of food production is critical not only to the future of our lives here in the United States but to the lives of people around the world,” said Hennessey. “We will need to bring together teams of experts from different disciplines if we are going to make important contributions to this work.”

FSE’s dual affiliation with the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and the Woods Institute for the Environment supports these collaborations, and is a key factor to the center’s expansion. The center is led by Naylor and its deputy director, Walter P. Falcon. Both share a long history at Stanford studying international agricultural economics.

Naylor received her PhD from Stanford’s Food Research Institute in 1989, and is now a professor in the department of Environmental Earth System Science. Her interdisciplinary approach to teaching has resulted in popular courses such as the World Food Economy (which she co-teaches with Falcon,) and Human Society and Environmental Change. Naylor was appointed the William Wrigley Senior Fellowship in 2008 in recognition of her multidisciplinary, cutting-edge research and long-term commitment to combating global hunger and environmental degradation.

Falcon, the Helen Farnsworth Professor of Agricultural Policy, Emeritus, served as the director of Stanford’s Food Research Institute from 1972 to 1991. Falcon’s leadership role continued as FSI’s director from 1991 to 1998. Between 1998 and 2007, he co-directed the Center for Environmental Science and Policy out of which grew the Program on Food Security and the Environment.

FSE is now engaged in over 15 major projects with $11.5 million in grant and program funding under management. Productive food systems and their environmental consequences comprise the core of the Center’s research portfolio.

“Roz Naylor and Wally Falcon have worked tirelessly to promote the center’s mission and to secure the funding needed to support the center’s growth,” said FSI Director Coit D. Blacker. “It is gratifying to see FSE’s research and scholarly agendas receiving a resounding vote of confidence from the University as well as some of the world’s leading foundations, agencies and individual donors.”