FSI scholars produce research aimed at creating a safer world and examing the consequences of security policies on institutions and society. They look at longstanding issues including nuclear nonproliferation and the conflicts between countries like North and South Korea. But their research also examines new and emerging areas that transcend traditional borders – the drug war in Mexico and expanding terrorism networks. FSI researchers look at the changing methods of warfare with a focus on biosecurity and nuclear risk. They tackle cybersecurity with an eye toward privacy concerns and explore the implications of new actors like hackers.
Along with the changing face of conflict, terrorism and crime, FSI researchers study food security. They tackle the global problems of hunger, poverty and environmental degradation by generating knowledge and policy-relevant solutions.
Innovation Needed to Meet Global Food Security Challenges
On the role of anthropogenic climate change in the emerging food crisis in southern Africa in the 2019–2020 growing season
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Researchers including David Lobell analyze how human-caused climate change has impacted a water deficit in Southern Africa and might contribute to a rising food security crisis in the region.
The Future of Food from the Sea
As the global population and people’s incomes rise, the demand for ocean-derived food will continue to grow. At the same time, hunger and malnutrition continues to be a challenge in many countries, particularly in rural or developing areas. Looking to the ocean as a source of protein produced using low-carbon methodologies will be critical for food security, nutrition and economic stability, especially in coastal countries where hunger and malnutrition are a challenge. Yet these advances in ocean production can only be achieved with a concurrent focus on addressing threats to ocean health, such as climate change and overfishing.
Eyes in the Sky, Boots on the Ground: Assessing Satellite- and Ground-Based Approaches to Crop Yield Measurement and Analysis
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Understanding the determinants of agricultural productivity requires accurate measurement of crop output and yield. In smallholder production systems across low- and middle-income countries, crop yields have traditionally been assessed based on farmer-reported production and land areas in household/farm surveys, occasionally by objective crop cuts for a sub-section of a farmer’s plot, and rarely using full-plot harvests. In parallel, satellite data continue to improve in terms of spatial, temporal, and spectral resolution needed to discern performance on smallholder plots. This study evaluates ground- and satellite-based approaches to estimating crop yields and yield responsiveness to inputs, using data on maize from Eastern Uganda. Using unique, simultaneous ground data on yields based on farmer reporting, sub-plot crop cutting, and full-plot harvests across hundreds of smallholder plots, we document large discrepancies among the ground-based measures, particularly among yields based on farmer-reporting versus sub-plot or full-plot crop cutting. Compared to yield measures based on either farmer-reporting or sub-plot crop cutting, satellite-based yield measures explain as much or more variation in yields based on (gold-standard) full-plot crop cuts. Further, estimates of the association between maize yield and various production factors (e.g., fertilizer, soil quality) are similar across crop cut- and satellite-based yield measures, with the use of the latter at times leading to more significant results due to larger sample sizes. Overall, the results suggest a substantial role for satellite-based yield estimation in measuring and understanding agricultural productivity in the developing world.
When Food Insecurity Becomes a National Security Threat: A Conversation with David Beasley
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More than 820 million people around the world don’t have enough to eat and their hunger affects us all. “Without food security, you will have no other security,” said David Beasley, the executive director of the World Food Programme, to an audience of Stanford members and local residents on Oct. 1.
Beasley along with predecessor Ertharin Cousin, a visiting scholar with Stanford’s Center of Food Security and the Environment, helped shape the United Nations’ anti-hunger program into the world’s largest hunger relief organization, feeding over 90 million people every year.
Beasley and Cousin spoke on the multifaceted challenges of 21st century humanitarian response at the Robert G. Wesson Lecture, organized by Stanford's Center on Food Security and the Environment.
In March 2017, the Trump administration considered pulling U.S. funding, which provides 40 percent of the program’s support. But by arguing that food insecurity drives terrorist groups, like ISIS using food to recruit members, Beasley was able to keep US funding and raise money internationally.
“If you’re not going to do this out of the goodness of your heart, then you better do this out of your interest for national security,” said Beasley.
Though Cousin lauded the efficacy of Beasley’s efforts, she questioned whether promoting food security as a solution for global security could incite safety issues for World Food Programme workers. “How does that affect the building of awareness and does that create more problems for the people working on the ground?” she asked.
There are countries the World Food Programme has struggled to assist due to safety concerns. In June 2019, Beasley suspended aid from Yemen due to diversion of food from vulnerable people by Houthis. Safety was also a huge factor. “You can get shot and killed or stabbed in a heartbeat,” Beasley said.
The World Food Programme has encountered another complex situation in Venezuela, which is in the midst of its direst food crisis in history. Almost 90 percent of the country is living below the poverty line with a substantial cut in government assistance food programs.
Though Beasley could not provide detail due to the sensitive nature of negotiations, he believes a resolution will come soon. “We’re on the ground…in the middle of negotiations as we speak, and we’re making tremendous headway,”
Future efforts will focus on self-sustainability, which is crucial for long-term food security. The program has rehabilitated about 400,000 acres of otherwise unusable land because of flash floods or drought, allowing hundreds of thousands of people food and job security that would no longer need direct aid.
Both Beasley and Cousin agree that with the technology and wealth available, no child should go hungry and there should never be another famine on earth. “There are [people] who don’t know where their next meal is, and they’re marching towards death. That is absolutely inexcusable,” said Beasley.
When asked by Cousin what his takeaway from his experience as director has been, Beasley said, “Go love your neighbor, first and foremost. Please understand the suffering world out there, and don’t underestimate the power you have as an individual…I have so much hope for the future but at the same time, a great fear form what I see because of a lot of destabilization. The world is very fragile…Loving your neighbor is the most powerful weapon.”
By Gina Yu, Stanford Global Health Media Fellow
This story originally appeard on the Stanford Center for Innovation in Global Health's website.
Roz Naylor discusses Oceans and Food Security at Hopkins Marine Station
Massive changes in the global food sector over the next few decades – driven by climate change and other environmental stresses, growing population and income, advances in technology, and shifts in policies and trade patterns – will have profound implications for the oceans. Roz Naylor, Senior Fellow and Founding Director of Stanford’s Center on Food Security and the Environment, will discuss the interplay between terrestrial and marine food systems, highlighting the rising role of aquaculture in helping to meet the nutritional demands of 9-10 billion people by 2050. As a platform for her talk, she will introduce a new research initiative at Stanford on “Oceans and the Future of Food”, co-led by the Center for Oceans Solutions (COS) and the Center on Food Security and the Environment (FSE).
Free Admission is by reservation only. Please call 831-655-6200 between 8:30AM – 5:00PM, Mon-Fri, or RSVP at the Friends of Hopkins web page.
Boat Works Lecture Hall, Hopkins Marine Station
Three new center directors look to the future at FSI
Like a lot of people, Colin Kahl long thought of Washington, D.C. as the place to be when it comes to matters of international security. Today, Kahl, who served as national security adviser to former Vice President Joseph Biden, has a different opinion.
"A lot of the most cutting-edge policy questions and international security challenges of this century are, in a strange way, west coast issues," said Kahl, who took over as co-director of social sciences for Stanford's Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) in early September. He points to the role of technology in reshaping the global balance of power, the increasing importance of the Asia-Pacific region to the U.S. economy and security, and the country's changing demographics.
Kahl is one of three new directors at research centers run by The Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI). Also in September, Anna Grzymala-Busse took over as director of The Europe Center (TEC) and David Lobell became the Gloria and Richard Kushel Director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment (FSE).
In separate interviews, the incoming directors outlined goals that differed in substance, but had similar objectives: to focus on issues that have historically been important to their centers while advancing work on new and emerging challenges. All three also talked about further leveraging Stanford's interdisciplinary approach to education and research.
"The centers within FSI all address research and policy challenges that are constantly changing," said Lobell, a professor of earth system science who joined FSE in 2008, three years after it was formed. "As part of FSI, we have unique opportunities to better understand the interplay of our specific area within the broader context of international security."
Michael McFaul, FSI's director, said the new leaders take over at an exciting time for their respective centers — and for FSI.
"Coming into a new academic year, I am excited about the tremendous momentum within FSI and its six research centers," said McFaul, who is also the Ken Olivier and Angela Nomellini Professor of International Studies. "Our ability to generate interdisciplinary, policy-oriented research, to teach and train tomorrow's leaders, and to engage policymakers has never been stronger."
Big Data & Food
As FSE's director and a researcher himself, Lobell says he's excited about the potential for technology to solve longstanding questions surrounding food security and world hunger. Satellite imagery of small-scale farming around the globe, for instance, is rapidly advancing efforts to improve crop productivity. "Historically it's been really hard to get good data," said Lobell, whose recent projects include using machine learning to identify poverty zones in rural Africa and map yields of smallholder farms in Kenya.
"The measurement possibilities from new and different data technologies are going to be really important going forward," said Lobell, who is also looking to add expertise in water management and micronutrients, either by funding new graduate fellowships or hiring new faculty.
Europe and Beyond
For her part, Grzymala-Busse's primary goals at The Europe Center are to develop its international intellectual networks and strengthen its long-term institutional footing. "I am excited to build on our existing strengths and bring together even more historians, anthropologists, economists, and sociologists," said Grzymala-Busse, who joined Stanford faculty in 2016 and teaches political science and international studies. "Europe is ground zero for a lot of what's happening in the world, whether the rise of populism or the economic crises, and you can’t understand these developments without understanding the history, cultures, and economics of the region."
A Third Nuclear Revolution
For CISAC, international security is no longer just about nuclear security, says Kahl, who is one of two co-directors at the center; Rodney Ewing serves as the center's co-director of science and engineering, while Kahl oversees the social sciences.
Kahl says that nuclear weapons will remain a key focus for the center as North Korea, Iran, Russia, and China move to build or modernize arsenals. But, the center will also look at emerging technologies that are becoming serious threats. He cites as examples the rapid rise of cyberattacks, pandemics and biological weapons, and artificial intelligence and machine learning.
"My plan is to ensure that Stanford continues to play a profound leadership role in the most critical security issues facing the world today," said Kahl, who came to Stanford last year as the inaugural Steven C. Házy Senior Fellow, an endowed faculty chair at FSI.
Said McFaul, "We welcome three remarkable individuals with the skills and vision to guide their respective centers into the future."
Armed conflict and child mortality in Africa: a geospatial analysis
The extent to which armed conflicts—events such as civil wars, rebellions, and interstate conflicts—are an important driver of child mortality is unclear. While young children are rarely direct combatants in armed conflict, the violent and destructive nature of such events might harm vulnerable populations residing in conflict-affected areas. A 2017 review estimated that deaths of individuals not involved in combat outnumber deaths of those directly involved in the conflict, often more than five to one. At the same time, national child mortality continues to decline, even in highly conflict-prone countries such as Angola or the Democratic Republic of the Congo. With few notable exceptions, such as the Rwandan genocide or the ongoing Syrian Civil War, conflicts have not had clear reflections in national child mortality trends.
The Global Burden of Disease study estimated that, since 1994, conflicts caused less than 0·4% of deaths of children younger than 5 years in Africa, raising questions about the role of conflict in the global epidemiology of child mortality. The extent to which conflict matters to child mortality therefore remains largely unmeasured beyond specific conflicts. In Africa, conflict-prone countries also have some of the highest child mortality, but this might be a reflection of generalised underdevelopment resulting in proneness to conflict as well as high child mortality, rather than a direct relationship. In this analysis we aimed to shed new light on the effects of armed conflict on child mortality in Africa. We established the effects on child mortality of armed conflict in whom conflict-related deaths are not the result of active involvement in conflict, but of other consequences of conflict. We examined the duration of lingering conflict effects, and the geographical breadth of the observed effects, using geospatially explicit information on conflict location and number of conflict-related casualties. We then used our findings to estimate the burden of armed conflict on children younger than 5 years in Africa.
Future warming increases probability of globally synchronized maize production shocks
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Climate-induced shocks in grain production are a major contributor to global market volatility, which creates uncertainty for cereal farmers and agribusiness and reduces food access for poor consumers when production falls and prices spike. Our study, by combining empirical models of maize production with future warming scenarios, shows that in a warmer climate, maize yields will decrease and become more variable. Because just a few countries dominate global maize production and trade, simultaneous production shocks in these countries can have tremendous impacts on global markets. We show that such synchronous shocks are rare now but will become much more likely if the climate continues to warm. Our results underscore the need for continued investments in breeding for heat tolerance.