FSI's research on the origins, character and consequences of government institutions spans continents and academic disciplines. The institute’s senior fellows and their colleagues across Stanford examine the principles of public administration and implementation. Their work focuses on how maternal health care is delivered in rural China, how public action can create wealth and eliminate poverty, and why U.S. immigration reform keeps stalling. 

FSI’s work includes comparative studies of how institutions help resolve policy and societal issues. Scholars aim to clearly define and make sense of the rule of law, examining how it is invoked and applied around the world. 

FSI researchers also investigate government services – trying to understand and measure how they work, whom they serve and how good they are. They assess energy services aimed at helping the poorest people around the world and explore public opinion on torture policies. The Children in Crisis project addresses how child health interventions interact with political reform. Specific research on governance, organizations and security capitalizes on FSI's longstanding interests and looks at how governance and organizational issues affect a nation’s ability to address security and international cooperation.

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Against the backdrop of Ukraine's counteroffensive and the Kremlin's efforts to illegally annex additional territory, a delegation of members from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly arrived at Stanford to meet with experts and weigh considerations about the ongoing conflict. First on their circuit was a panel hosted by the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI) chaired by FSI Director Michael McFaul, with Marshall Burke, Francis Fukuyama, Anna Grzymala-Busse, Scott Sagan, and Kathryn Stoner participating.

The delegates represented thirteen of NATO's thirty member nations, including Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. Top of mind were questions about the possibility of nuclear escalation from the Kremlin, and appropriate repsonses from the alliance, as well as questions about the longevity of Putin's regime, the nature of international authoritarian alliances, and the future of Ukraine as a European nation.

Drawing from their expertise on state-building, democracy, security issues, nuclear enterprise, and political transitions, the FSI scholars offered a broad analysis of the many factors currently playing out on the geopolitical stage. Abbreviated versions of their responses are given below.

Kathryn Stoner, Francis Fukuyama, Marshall Burke, Scott Sagan, Anna Grzymala-Busse, and Michael McFaul present at a panel given to memebers of the NATO Parlimentary Assembly.
Kathryn Stoner, Francis Fukuyama, Marshall Burke, Scott Sagan, Anna Grzymala-Busse, and Michael McFaul present at a panel given to memebers of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly on September 26, 2022. Melissa Morgan

The following commentary has been edited for clarity and length, and does not represent the full extent of the panel’s discussion.

Rethinking Assumptions about Russia and Putin

Kathryn Stoner

Right now, Putin is the most vulnerable he's ever been in 22 years in power. But I don’t believe he's under so much pressure at this point that he is about to leave office anytime soon. Autocracies do not usually die by popular mobilization, unfortunately. More often they end through an elite coup or turnover. And since the end of WWII, the research has shown that about 75% of the time autocracies are typically replaced by another autocracy, or the perpetuation of the same autocracy, just with a different leader. So, if Putin were replaced, you might get a milder form of autocracy in Russia, but I don't think you are suddenly going to create a liberal democracy.

This means that we in the West, and particularly in the U.S., need to think very hard about our strategies and how we are going to manage our relationships with Putin and his allies. This time last year, the U.S. broadcast that we basically wanted Russia to calm down so we could pivot to China. That’s an invitation to not calm down, and I think it was a mistake to transmit that as policy.

We need to pay attention to what Russia has been doing. They are the second biggest purveyor of weapons globally after the United States. They will sell to anyone. They’ve been forgiving loans throughout Sub Saharan Africa from the Soviet period and using that as a way of bargaining for access to natural resources. They’re marketing oil, selling infrastructure, and building railroads. Wherever there is a vacuum, someone will fill it, and that includes Russia every bit as much as China. We need to realize that we are in competition with both Russia and China, and develop our policies and outreach accordingly.


Kathryn Stoner

Mosbacher Director of the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law
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Confronting Autocracy at Home and Abroad

Anna Grzymala-Busse

Why is Putin in Ukraine? Because the fact that there is a democratic country right next door to Russia is an affront to him. Putin doesn’t care that much about NATO. The fact that nothing happened when Sweden joined is some evidence of this. That’s something to keep in mind as people are debating NATO and Ukraine and Ukraine’s possible future as a member.

NATO membership and EU membership are both wonderful things. But more fundamental that that, this war has to be won first. That’s why I think it’s necessary in the next six months to speed up the support for Ukraine by ensuring there’s a steady stream of armaments, training personnel, and providing other military support.

There’s been incredible unity on Ukraine over the last seven months across the EU, NATO, and amongst our allies. But our recent history with President Trump reminds us how fragile these international commitments can be. In foreign policy, it used to be understood that America stands for liberal democracy. But we had a president of the United States who was more than happy to sidle up to some of the worst autocrats in the world. That’s why we can’t afford to leave rising populism around the world unaddressed and fail to engage with voters. When we do that, we allow far right parties to grab those votes and go unopposed. Whatever happens domestically impacts what happens internationally.

Anna Grzymała-Busse

Anna Grzymala-Busse

Director of The Europe Center
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The Consequences of Nuclear Sabre-Rattling

Scott Sagan

We have to very clear-eyed when we’re talking about the threat, however improbable, of the use of a nuclear weapon. When it comes to the deployment of a tactical nuclear weapon, its kinetic effects depend on both the size of the weapon, the yield, and the target. Tactical weapons range in yield from very low — 5-10% of what was in the Hiroshima bomb — to as large as what was used against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If that kind of weapon was used on an urban target, it would produce widescale effects. In a battlefield or rural area, it would have a relatively small impact.

But in the bigger picture, what any use of a weapon like this does is break a 70+ year tradition of non-use. Those seventy years have been dicey and fragile, but they have held so far. A tradition that is broken creates a precedent, and once there’s a precedent, it makes it much easier for someone to transgress the tradition again. So even if a decision was made to use a tactical weapon with little kinetic importance for strategic effect, I think we still need to be worried about it.

Personalistic dictators surround themselves with yes men. They make lonely decisions by themselves, often filled with vengeance and delusion because no one can tell them otherwise. They don't have the checks and balances. But I want to make one point about a potential coup or overthrow. Putin has done a lot to protect himself against that. But improbable events happen all the time, especially when leaders make really, really bad decisions. That’s not something we should be calling for as official U.S. policy, but it should be our hope.

Headshot of Scott Sagan

Scott Sagan

FSI Senior Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation
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Cycles of Conflict, Climate Change, and Food Insecurity

Marshall Burke

The estimates right now project that there are 350 million people around the world facing acute food insecurity. That means 350 million people who literally don’t have enough to eat. That’s roughly double what it was pre-COVID. The factors driving that are things like supply chain disruptions from the pandemic and climate shocks, but also because of ongoing conflict happening around the world, Ukraine included.

There was an early concern that the war in Ukraine would be a huge threat to global food security. That largely has not been the case so far, at least directly. Opening the grain corridors through the Black Sea has been crucial to this, and it’s critical that we keep those open and keep the wheat flowing out. Research shows that unrest increases when food prices spike, so it’s important for security everywhere to keep wheat prices down.

What I’m worried about now is natural gas prices. With high global natural gas prices, that means making fertilizer is also very expensive and prices have increased up to 300% relative to a few years ago. If they stay that high, this is going to be a long-term problem we will have to find a way of reckoning with on top of the other effects from climate change already impacting global crop production and the global economy.

Marshall Burke

Marshall Burke

Deputy Director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment
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Ukraine After the War

Francis Fukuyama

I've been more optimistic about the prospects for Ukraine taking back territory for more of this war, just because of the vast difference in motivation between the two sides and the supply of modern weapons that Ukraine has been getting. But I don’t know what the conditions on the ground will look like when the decision to negotiate comes. Will Russia still be sitting on occupied territory? Are they kicked out entirely? Or are the frontlines close to where they are now?

As I’ve observed, Ukraine's demands have shifted depending on how they perceive the war going on. There was a point earlier this summer where they hinted that a return to the February 23 borderlines would be acceptable. But now with their recent successes, they're saying they want everything back to the 2014 lines. What actually happens will depend on what the military situation looks like next spring, by my guess.

However the war does end, I think Ukraine actually has a big opportunity ahead of them. Putin has unwittingly become the father of a new Ukrainian nation. The stresses of the war have created a very strong sense of national identity in Ukraine that didn’t exist previously. It’s accurate that Ukraine had significant problems with corruption and defective institutions before, but I think there’s going to be a great push to rout that out. Even things like the Azov steel factory being bombed out of existence is probably a good thing in the long run, because Ukraine was far too dependent on 20th-century coal, steel, and heavy industry. Now they have an opportunity to make a break from all of that.

There are going to be challenges, obviously. We’ll have to watch very carefully what Zelenskyy chooses to do with the commanding position he has at the moment, and whether the government will be able to release power back to the people and restore its institutions. But Europe and the West and our allies are going to have a really big role in the reconstruction of Ukraine, and that should be regarded by everyone as a tremendous opportunity.


Francis Fukuyama

Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at FSI
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Victory in Ukraine, Victory for Democracy

Michael McFaul

Nobody likes a loser, and right now, Putin is losing strategically, tactically, and morally. Now, he doesn’t really care about what Biden or NATO or the West think about him. But he does care about what the autocrats think about him, especially Xi Jinping. And with reports coming out of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization that Xi has “concerns” about what’s happening in Ukraine, Putin is feeling that pressure. I think that's why he has decided he needs to double down, not to negotiate, but to try and “win” in some way as defined by him.

In my view, that’s what’s behind the seizure of these four regions. If he feels like he can unequivocally claim them as part of Russia, then maybe he will sue for peace. And that’s exactly what President Zelenskyy fears. Why? Because that’s exactly what happened in 2014. Putin took Crimea, then turned around to the countries of the world and said, “Aren’t we all tired of war? Can’t we just have peace? I’m ready to end the war, as long as you recognize the new borders.” And, let’s be honest, we did.

We keep hearing politicians say we should put pressure for peace negotiations. I challenge any of them to explain their strategy for getting Putin to talk about peace. There is no doubt in my mind that President Zelenskyy would sit down tomorrow to negotiate if there was a real prospect for peace negotiations. But there's also no doubt in my mind right now that Putin has zero interest in peace talks.

Like Dr. Fukuyama, I don’t know how this war will end. But there's nobody inside or outside of Russia that thinks it’s going well. I personally know a lot of people that believe in democracy in Russia. They believe in democracy just as much as you or I. I’ve no doubt of their convictions. But they’re in jail, or in exile today.

If we want to help Russia in the post-Putin world, we have to think about democracy. There’s not a lot we can do to directly help democracy in Russia right now. But we should be doing everything to help democracy in Ukraine.  It didn’t happen in 1991. It didn’t happen in 2004. It didn’t happen in 2014. They had those breakthroughs and those revolutionary moments, but we as the democratic world collectively didn’t get it right. This is our moment to get it right, both as a way of helping Ukraine secure its future, and to give inspiration to “small-d” democrats fighting for rights across the world.

Michael McFaul, FSI Director

Michael McFaul

Director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies
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FSI Director Michael McFaul, Kathryn Stoner, Francis Fukuyama, Scott Sagan, Anna Grzymala-Busse, and Marshall Burke answered questions from the parliamentarians on the conflict and its implications for the future of Ukraine, Russia, and the global community.

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A major bill with bipartisan support in Congress would reward farmers for an unusual harvest. The Growing Climate Solutions Act(link is external) promises billions of dollars for climate-smart agriculture practices, such as planting cover crops to reduce erosion and sequester carbon. The bill highlights farming’s potential as a climate change solution, as well as the challenge of controlling the sector’s growing greenhouse gas emissions. Below, Stanford Earth scientists Inês AzevedoDavid Lobell and Rob Jackson discuss the surprising amount of greenhouse gases emitted by farming, how farmland conservation programs can help reverse the trend and what the federal government can do to promote more climate-friendly agriculture, among other issues.

Azevedo is an associate professor in the Department of Energy Resources Engineering at Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth). Her research examines the role of food systems in reaching de-carbonized economies. Lobell is the Gloria and Richard Kushel Director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment. He uses unique datasets to study rural areas; his research has shown how reduced soil tillage can increase yields while nurturing healthier soils and lowering production costs. Jackson is the Michelle and Kevin Douglas Provostial Professor of Energy and Environment in Stanford Earth. His work has shown that global emissions of nitrous oxide increased by 30 percent over the past four decades due mostly to large-scale farming with synthetic fertilizers and cattle ranching, and that well-managed soil’s ability to trap carbon dioxide is potentially much greater than previously estimated.

What might the average person be surprised to learn about greenhouse gas emissions from America’s agricultural lands?

Lobell: First, I think people are surprised that the food system actually uses a very small share of fossil fuels, even when you include all the fertilizer production. Second, people are surprised by how many things they think are good, like eating organic or local foods, have very little effect on emissions and can even be worse than conventional alternatives.

Jackson: Many people are aware that fossil fuel use drives most carbon dioxide emissions, but they might not know that more than half of methane and nitrous oxide emissions attributable to human activities come from agriculture.

Azevedo: I think the average person would be surprised to learn agriculture – including livestock, agricultural soils and agricultural production – accounts for about 10 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and, in contrast to some other sectors of the economy, they have increased over time.

Does the Growing Climate Solutions Act go far enough to mitigate and reduce emissions? How could it be stronger?

Lobell: I worry that there isn’t enough emphasis on the main greenhouse gases that agriculture contributes to – nitrous oxide and methane – where progress could probably be made a lot faster than for carbon dioxide. Soil carbon is like motherhood and apple pie – nobody is against it – but I wish that half the energy I see going into how to get more carbon into soil was going into how to reduce emissions of the other gases.

How can programs that reward farmers for certain conservation practices help? 

Jackson: The world’s soils contain far more carbon than the atmosphere, but agricultural activities such as plowing have released two hundred billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere from soils. Conservation programs can help us put some of that carbon back where it belongs, making our soils more fertile and better at retaining water.

Lobell: On one level, these programs can help start the process of making agriculture carbon neutral or even carbon negative. This is important if we want to meet aggressive climate goals. On another level, they can help build a broader political coalition devoted to solving climate change. This might be even more important for climate goals, especially given the disproportionate role of rural states in our federal government.

How should such programs be designed for maximum efficiency and cost-effectiveness?

Lobell: I’m concerned there is a lot of hype out there now on what specific practices can deliver, for example by companies trying to raise large funding rounds on the idea of selling carbon credits. I think it’s important that the programs have a strong system of verification and ability to adjust over time as we learn about what is truly effective.

Jackson: Rather than focusing primarily on carbon dioxide, agricultural incentives would be well served to reduce emissions of methane and nitrous oxide through practices such as better fertilizer and manure management. Methane’s warming potential is 30 times higher than carbon dioxide’s over a century, and nitrous oxide’s warming potential is nearly 300 times higher. Reducing them is a great bang for our climate buck.

From a global perspective, how important is agriculture’s role as a potential climate change solution, and how can policymakers better quantify and track it?

Azevedo: One of the recent things our recent research has shown is that although reducing emissions from fossil fuels is essential for meeting the Paris Agreement goals, other sources of emissions may also preclude its attainment. Specifically, even if all fossil fuel emissions were immediately halted, the achievement of the agreement’s 1.5 degree Celsius maximum temperature increase target would likely not be feasible if global food systems continue along their current trends.

Lobell: I think accelerating public research in this area will be critical, particularly for ways to accurately measure carbon accumulation or emissions reductions on individual farms. If this had been a well-funded area, we might be in a much better position in terms of leveraging all of the private sector enthusiasm for it. Since food is a traded commodity, it will also be important to monitor global land-use change and the extent to which our domestic policies might be having unintended consequences elsewhere.

Azevedo and Jackson are also senior fellows at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and the Precourt Institute for Energy. Lobell is also a professor of Earth system science in Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, the William Wrigley Senior Fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and a senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.

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Stanford scientists discuss climate-smart agriculture

Walter P. Falcon
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Long-time readers of this posting will note that it is a year late. 2020 was a lost year in multiple senses, and one of substantial change for me personally and professionally. I have previously described myself as combining a day job as Professor of International Agricultural Policy at Stanford University with that of a farm manager of a medium- sized farm in Iowa. (Actually, assistant farm manager, since my wife, Laura. Is the real farm boss). But at 84, I retired for the third time at Stanford, and I am now on our farm full time. Daily life hasn’t changed that much, however, as I continue to write and Laura is still very much in charge of farming. Among her many agricultural talents, she is a crack shot with an air rifle, as several racoons, possums, and skunks can attest when they have attempted to raid the cat feeding dish.

The saga of how I became a full time Iowan is long and painful. The short version is that in early 2020 I fractured two vertebrae while doing physical therapy. (I have always doubted the wisdom of exercise!) Two back surgeries later, I found myself in a nursing home/rehabilitation center in the South Bay area. That timing was prior to vaccines and a period when care centers were hotbeds for COVID infections. Given my other heart and lung problems, I knew that I had to flee. With the help of my son, Andrew, I came to Iowa—2,200 miles straight through on a gurney in an ambulance. The awful nature of that ride was exceeded only by its cost! But I lived to tell the tale, and like many dreadful experiences, it has now morphed into a success story.

Much about life in Iowa remains the same. What I miss most about California are close friends, grandchildren, and great restaurants. Our town in Iowa has all fast-food outlets known to humankind. But really good restaurants—even decent places—are hard to find. With or without COVID, many Iowans have a good bit of parsimonious DNA in them, and they have little taste or time for great restaurant dining. On the other hand, when it comes to sweetcorn, tomatoes, and pork tenderloins, Iowa is destination dining.

One big change locally—mostly a victim of the virus—is the morning gathering of farmers for coffee in the old store in the nearby village of Waubeek. I certainly don’t yearn for the terrible coffee, but somehow community life is less rich, less informed, and less gossiped as a consequence of the demise of this decades-old tradition.

If anything, Iowa seems to have become more conservative—a ban on mask mandates, changed voting laws and regulations, and increasingly dim views on President Biden. There are few political conversations per se, but latent Trumpism seems alive and well. The hottest topic is whether the forever Senator from Iowa, Charles Grassley, now 87, should retire in 2022. Mostly, however, conversations revert to the traditional matters of weather, church, and family.

“Beware the ides of March” has long been good advice. For farmers in east central Iowa “Beware the 10th of August” is an even better warning. On that day in 2020, a huge derecho storm cut a 50- mile swath across Iowa. The storm carried with it straight-line winds of 130 miles per hour which created complete havoc. Our nearby city of Cedar Rapids lost two-thirds of its trees—some 600,000 in total. Our orchard grove after the winds looked like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree lot, and the impact on cornfields was a disaster—a combination of broken stalks and flattened rows. We had planned for 220 bushel per acre corn on our farm, but the actual number as measured by the scales was 104 bushels. I suppose the good news is that (80%) crop insurance paid for the equivalent of 72 bushels per acre of this loss. The further good news was that payment was at the prevailing market price, which was high relative to the prior 3 years. The farmer in me enjoyed cashing the government check; the professor in me wondered how seriously crop insurance programs were delaying climate-change adaptation in the corn belt.

On August 10, 2021, one year later to the day, we were hit by another vicious storm that appeared as a set of mini-tornados. During the prior month of July we had received no rainfall, and our county was then 12 inches below normal in seasonal precipitation. On the 10th, the midday sky turned absolutely black. The wind brought with it a couple of inches of rain to our great delight, but it also created a crazy pattern of destruction. In three adjoining fields of corn on our farm, one was unhurt; another had one-third of the crop flattened to the ground; and the third field had about 20 percent green-snap—stocks twisted and completely broken. A combination of water stress and wind seems likely to generate another year of low yields and more crop insurance payments. Soybeans fared better in this year’s storm, but the early drought has seriously hampered the “filling” of bean pods—few beans per pod and small sized as well. If new pickup trucks and tractors were available for sale, which they are not, fewer farmers would be interested this year.

COVID-Delta is now surging in Iowa. Hospitals are near capacity, but are not yet overrun. The state has been bipolar on opening activities. Last year the fairs were canceled, but this year they are back at full tilt. More than a million visitors visited the State Fair, an unbelievable number given that Iowa’s population is only 3.2 million.

Everything seemed bigger, though perhaps not better. Irish Cowboy won the super-boar contest weighting in at a whopping 1288 pounds, the butter-sculped cow made her 110th appearance, and reportedly by actual count, 49 different foods could be bought on a stick!

Our local fair was booming as well. What amazed me was the number of purple (championship)ribbons given this year. When I was showing cattle back in the 1950s, I remember 4 purple ribbons given in the beef show, and the only one that really mattered was the grand champion market steer. This year the beef show awarded 60 purple ribbons for various classes of animals, and another 20 for showmanship. It is less clear what winning means these days, but perhaps in both fairs and wars that is a good thing.

While the fairs had their moments of glory, two other events stole the spotlight locally. The last week in July saw the return of the “ride across Iowa”, known as RAGBRAI. This year, 16,000 supposedly sane bicycle riders started in northwest Iowa at the Missouri River and ended in east central Iowa before dipping their wheels in the Mississippi River. The weather was in the 80s and 90s, and it was also very humid. It was some sight to see 16,000 cyclists come riding (actually walking, a rule in towns) through our hometown of 1,400 people. The riders were welcomed warmly by the locals, and the church and auxiliary organizations had a field day selling all sorts of food and drink. The aftermath cleanup was welcomed less warmly.

What really put Iowa on the national map in 2021, however, was one particular corn field. It is near Dyersville, some 40 miles from where we live. That cornfield, which surrounds the “Field of Dreams,” brought Kevin Costner to town, as well as the White Sox and Yankees to play the first major league baseball game in Iowa’s history. The game itself was storybook in character, with a walk-off home run at its end. But the lasting image, and a source of great pride to Iowans, was the visual of the Yankee and White Sox players emerging from a towering corn field. There were some knowing smiles also when some of the “city ballplayers” found out that field corn was not the same thing as sweetcorn.

No farm field report is complete without a little bull. And that is what we now have—a two-year-old Angus sire that we hope will produce smaller calves and fewer calving difficulties. Our fat cattle from last year weighed well and graded prime—except for one. He was dangerously crazy, apparently thought he was half deer, and continuously jumped fences to go to the pasture rather than stay in feedlot. (Some of my Stanford colleagues actually think he was the smart one and it was the others that were crazy!)

Cattle marketing has changed locally, and most fed animals are now sold on a grade and yield basis. Farmers are paid after the animal has been slaughtered and graded, with the price determined at that point, rather than in a live cattle auction ring. Price margins between the farm and grocery stores have widened for beef recently, giving rise to all sorts of farmer claims of price fixing by meat packing companies. This claim is common, and my guess is that the reasons for increasing spreads are to be found in rising labor costs and transport bottlenecks.

More generally, it has been a very tough year for cattle feeders. Low beef prices coupled with high corn prices made for terrible feeding margins. Then there were the storms. Two of our nearby neighbors are the largest cattle feeders in the county, each having multiple feedlot buildings. The standard design of cattle feeding barns leaves them quite vulnerable to high winds The derecho storm blew virtually all their structures down or away, and dozens of animals were injured and had to be put down. “The sight of demolished buildings, injured and dead steers, and the rest of my high-valued inventory of live cattle walking around in the neighbor’s cornfield made for a really bad hair day” is how one summarized the scene.

Neighbors growing pigs have had their share of complaints as well, especially about California. Voters in that state voted, via a referendum, to ban the sale of pork products when the mother pig (sow) did not have at least 24 square feet of room. This size is greater than most Iowa farrowing pens (that are designed mostly to protect piglets) and reconfiguring them is costly. Since farmers in Iowa annually send some 30 million pigs to market (with lots of pork products going to California), the new law has both farmers and politicians up in arms. Mockery has been the typical form of exasperation. One newspaper suggested that next year Californians will require farmers to provide sows with pillows!

If the new law is more than symbolic, however, it raises the most serious kinds of regulatory issues. Since smaller pens are not illegal, wo will do the enforcement? Presumably the task will fall to packing companies, but how? Will they use an “honor system” with farmers? will they pay premia to farmers who comply? and how will California interests be ensured, since a pork chop looks and tastes the same whether 16 or 24 square feet is provided the mother pig? I tell my west coast friends that if they are serious, they should get ready for bacon-less BLTs.

More than usual, my thoughts this summer have focused on Asia. I began my international career 60 years ago working in rural parts of Pakistan that adjoined Afghanistan. One vivid memory is driving through the Khyber Pass and, at nearly every one of the many turns. seeing a monument to some foreign regiment that had been defeated. The Pathan group of the region is the most fierce, rugged, and loyal group I have ever known. To know them is to admire them—yet to disagree with many aspects of their culture. An economist colleague from that era and I had conversations in 2010 about the region. We concluded, correctly I believe, that anyone who had ever visited the place would not go to war there.

The second link to Asia this summer was more biological in character. My 40-year involvement with Indonesia intensified my sadness about that country’s terrible bout with COVID. With limited health care and few vaccines, my friends and their institutions have been hit by devastating blows. Another Indonesia link appeared in a more unusual way. During the middle of the summer, we noticed that our alfalfa field had suddenly turned yellow, as it turned out, from an invasion of leafhoppers. We sprayed immediately and ended up with 4 marvelous cuttings of hay. (Interestingly, our net returns from growing alfalfa this year will exceed the net returns from growing either corn or soybeans.) And what is the Indonesian connection? During much of the 1970s my colleagues and I worked in Indonesia on controlling leafhoppers (albeit a different species than the Iowa variety) that were destroying much of Indonesia’s rice crop. Indonesia had been using the wrong pesticide, and multiple spraying killed the leafhoppers, but also killed the “good” bugs, thus setting up a spiral of ever greater pesticide use. The solution was the introduction of new Green Revolution varieties that not only greatly increased yields, but also had leafhopper resistance incorporated directly into the seeds.

This year is very different in one particular respect. For the first time since 1962, I am not immersed in lecture preparation for courses on world agriculture. Stanford students are back in residence, but I am not, and I will miss that. But there is still autumn work to be done. I must learn all of the intricacies of Zoom calls so as to participate better in Stanford activities such as the (would have been) 100th anniversary of the Food Research Institute. There is also a new backup generator to install, a new machine shed to design, and more directly personal, learning how to maneuver a wheelchair in Iowa snow that will come all too soon.

Walter P. Falcon is Farnsworth Professor of International Agricultural Policy and Economics, Emeritus. He and his wife,  Laura, reside on their farm near Marion, Iowa. (

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FSE Senior Fellow, Emeritus, Walter Falcon shares observations from Iowa on weather, farming, politics and more.

Catherine Arnold
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Despite aquaculture’s potential to feed a growing world population while relieving pressure on badly depleted oceans, the industry has been plagued by questions about its environmental impacts.

But over the years, the diverse industry – which ranges from massive open-ocean salmon cages to family farm freshwater tilapia ponds – has made significant strides toward sustainability, according to a new Stanford-led analysis.

The study notes, however, that in order for the global aquaculture sector to deliver on its full promise, more effective oversight measures are needed to help ensure that its environmentally sound systems are economically viable.

The findings, published March 24 in Nature, could help shape how consumers think about the seafood they buy, and inform governance strategies critical to global food and nutrition security.

“As the demand for seafood around the world continues to expand, aquaculture will keep growing,” said study lead author Rosamond Naylor, the William Wrigley Professor of Earth System Science in Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth). “If we don’t get it right, we risk the same environmental problems we’ve seen in land-based crop and livestock systems: nutrient pollution, excessive use of antibiotics and habitat change that threatens biodiversity.”

Twenty years ago, Naylor led a study that sparked controversy by saying farmed fish and shellfish in some cases added pressure to ocean fisheries – instead of relieving it – because carnivorous farm-raised species required large amounts of wild fish for feed. The paper, also published in Nature, prompted a spate of news stories and academic research questioning whether aquaculture was more of an environmental problem than a solution. Environmental groups applauded the study’s focus on aquaculture’s marine ecosystem impacts, while the industry pointed to hopeful developments that were largely ignored, such as ongoing improvements in fish nutrition.

Since then, the volume of global aquaculture production has tripled. In the new paper, aquaculture specialists and scientists from Asia, Europe, South America and the U.S. assessed the state of the industry by synthesizing hundreds of studies done over the past two decades on issues ranging from value chain developments in freshwater aquaculture to the use of wild fish in feeds to seaweed market challenges.

Their analysis considered key challenges and uncertainties, such as climate change’s impact on the industry, low-income producers’ adoption of sustainable seafood certification programs and shellfish and seaweed farmers’ ability to profit from providing ecosystem services, such as carbon capture.

Among the findings: freshwater aquaculture, comprised of nearly 150 species of fish, shellfish and plants, accounts for 75% of farmed aquatic food consumed directly by humans.

“Most aquaculture is about fish people can afford to eat – and most of the farming of aquatic animals happening in Asian countries stays in those countries,” said study co-author David Little, a professor in the University of Stirling Institute for Aquaculture, in the U.K. “It’s having an important impact on food security and rural livelihoods.”

Other regions, including Africa, are increasingly benefitting from the introduction of freshwater aquaculture. But while small freshwater farms are on the rise around the world, there is little oversight of their practices.

The researchers also found that the production of high-value shrimp, salmon and other marine fish rose rapidly, contributing to a significant rise in the share of global fishmeal and fish oil used by aquaculture. Yet, the ratio of wild fish input per fed fish output has dropped almost seven-fold since 1997.

“We have been successful in converting carnivorous fish, such as salmon and trout, largely into vegetarians,” said study co-author Ronald Hardy of the Aquaculture Research Institute at the University of Idaho.

In the study, the researchers call for better management of antimicrobial use in fish farming to limit the development of drug-resistant microbes that threaten both fish and human health, and regulation of marine farm sites. They also recommended incentives for sustainably designed systems to prevent cross-contamination between fish waste and surrounding waters, and a food systems approach to governance that considers nutrition, equity, justice and environmental outcomes and trade-offs across land and sea.

“When done well, aquaculture can play a sustaining role in global food systems by providing expanded food production and livelihood benefits with relatively minimal environmental harm,” said study co-author Dane Klinger, director of aquaculture at Conservation International and PhD graduate of Stanford’s Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources. “This assessment will help industry, government and other stakeholders navigate the opportunities and obstacles that remain ahead.”

The researchers shared observations from their analysis in a related seminar. Watch it here.

Naylor is also Founding Director of Stanford’s Center on Food Security and the Environment; and a senior fellow in the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. Other co-authors of the study include Alejandro Buschmann of the Universidad de Los Lagos (Chile); Simon Bush of Wageningen University (Netherlands); Ling Cao of Shanghai Jiao Tong University (China); Jane Lubchenco of Oregon State University; Sandra Shumway of the University of Connecticut; and Max Troell of the Beijer Institute and Stockholm University (Sweden).

Funding for the research was provided by the Center on Food Security and the Environment.

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Twenty years ago, a Stanford-led analysis sparked controversy by highlighting fish farming’s damage to ocean fisheries. Now a follow-up study takes stock of the industry’s progress and points to opportunities for sustainable growth.

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Agricultural and development economist Christopher B. Barrett, a visiting scholar with the Center on Food Security and the Environment (FSE), gave a lecture at Stanford on food systems advances over the past 50 years that have promoted unprecedented reduction globally in poverty and hunger, averted considerable deforestation, and broadly improved lives, livelihoods and environments in much of the world (watch video here or below).

In that lecture, and a related interview with FSE Senior Fellow Roz Naylor (watch video here or below), Barrett shared perspectives on the reasons why, despite advances, those systems increasingly fail large communities in environmental, health, and increasingly in economic terms and appear ill-suited to cope with inevitable further changes in climate, incomes, and population over the coming 50 years. Barrett explored the new generation of innovations underway that must overcome a host of scientific and socioeconomic obstacles. 

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Walter P. Falcon
Walter Falcon
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This posting, my eighth annual edition, comes again from our mid-sized corn, soybean, and cattle farm in Linn County, Iowa.  My wife and I may not be typical owners, but our farming operation is a fair representation of what is happening in rural America. The overwhelming reaction for 2019 is, “Wow, what a difference a year makes.”  In 2018, growing conditions were practically perfect; in 2019, almost nothing has gone right.

Not since the early 1980s can I recall seeing so many glum faces around the farmer coffee table at the local diner.   And it is more than just the lousy coffee that prompts the scowls. Our spring was the wettest in recorded history.  There was severe flooding from both the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, and from most of the streams in between.  Plantings of corn and soybeans were delayed, and substantial acres did not get planted at all—more than 400,000 acres in Iowa alone.  About 75% of the corn is typically planted by May 15th in our region. This year, less than 25% was in the ground, and the wet cold soil left crops that were planted looking yellow and puny.

“Prevented acres” (those fields that farmers were prevented from planting) became a hot topic of conversation, as everyone re-read their crop-insurance contracts to see what was needed to qualify, and who actually determined what was prevented. Discussions on whether it was wiser financially to plant late, with expectations of a small crop that could well suffer frost damage, or whether to claim prevention, led to some very interesting new principles of cost accounting!  Calculations and comparisons were complex, but farmers who chose the prevent option received about $400 per acre. Those who planted very late, and rolled the dice with respect to their regular crop-insurance, still eagerly await harvest outcomes.

If April 15-June 15 was unbelievably wet, June 15-August 15 was unbelievably dry during the critical period for corn pollination and grain filling.  Rainfall was 4 inches less than normal, and inch-wide cracks opened in the soil. Corn on sandy knolls began to burn and many stalks failed to “shoot” ears. Many of the ears that were produced were small and poorly filled with kernels. Pastures also dried up, and we began feeding supplemental hay to our cow herd in July. During the week of August 18th, we finally received two inches of rain—too late to make much difference to the corn crop, but offering some hope for reasonable soybean yields. One of my more sacrilegious friends suggested that the mid-August rain was god’s way of suckering famers into farming for another year. 

To make matters worse, eastern Iowa now has a new invasive pathogen—tar spot in corn.  Tar spot is a fungus that literally blew in from Mexico.  Spores rode winds from a hurricane into Indiana and Illinois in 2016, and now they have migrated to Iowa.  Our corn varieties have little resistance to it, and while breeders will probably breed in resistance within a couple of years, farmers are now short-run losers.  Yesterday’s debate over coffee was whether, with both low crop prices and low expected yields, it paid to spray aerially for tar spot and other fungi. (The application costs about $25 per acre for both the fungicide and for flying it on.)  For our farm, we decided to take our chances on damages and not to spray. Who knows if that was the right decision.

Perhaps the only thing that farmers agree on is that NO ONE has a good grasp on the size of the U.S. corn crop—not farmers or traders, and certainly not the Department of Agriculture (USDA).  For whatever reasons, local producers believe that the USDA is fudging the expected numbers upward on both expected yields and planted acre, with consequent negative effects on corn markets. A sad sign of the times occurred during a recent mid-western tour of crop conditions.  The tour included members of USDA’s statistical team.  But after threats to their personal safety were deemed credible, the USDA recalled its members from the tour. No one whom I know ever thought that the comment “farmers were up in arms” would need to be taken literally.

More generally, the growing frustration and anger with Washington has replaced talk about the best new tractors and pickups—no one is buying.  Farmers were furious over the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision to provide waivers on ethanol requirements for 31 refineries, and a failure to move more generally to an E15 standard.  And after a decades-long attempt to build an Asian soybean market, farmers feel seriously victimized by the President’s trade policy (though interestingly, it is often the USDA and the EPA rather than the President who are blamed). Farmers will certainly cash the checks from the new $14 billion Market Facilitation Plan, but they are extremely worried about the loss of long-term market shares.  Farmers who grow either soybeans or corn in our county this year will receive (potentially) $66 per acre. Only the first half ($33) of the payment is now guaranteed; the remaining half of the payment is conditional on what the USDA says are “market conditions and trade opportunities.” Farmers are still scratching their heads about the operational meaning of those concepts.

In some years, strong livestock profits help offset poor crop yields and prices. But 2019 has not been one of those years.  Whereas 2018 saw quite high profits from pigs, 2019 saw a decline in lean pork prices from $.92 per pound in May to $.62 in August. Pork exports were disrupted by trade arrangements with Mexico. And in China, despite needs arising from African swine fever, the 66% tariff caused a 4% decline in pork shipment from the U.S. during the first half of 2019. Cattle fared little better.  Prices for slaughter steers started at about $1.40 per pound in March. But by August, prices had slipped to about $1.05 per pound.  To add insult to injury, a fire caused temporary closure of a very large packing plant in Kansas, which slaughters about 6,000 head per day (5% of total U.S. capacity). This accident, in turn, caused an overnight drop of $0.10 per pound.  The $0.45 per pound drop in price between March and August of “what might have been” tallies up to the equivalent of about $500 per animal—the difference between very handsome profits and devastating losses.

Taken together, readers now understand why my report this year has taken the form of a lament. In a recent Farm Futures survey of 1,150 farmers, 53% said that 2019 was the worst year they had ever experienced. And readers will also understand why the Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, was roundly booed for his attempt at humor during a recent farm tour: “What do you call two Iowa farmers locked in a basement—a ‘whine’ cellar.”


The State Fair is a big deal for Iowans. (So big, in fact, that by law public schools cannot start until the Fair is over.)  In 2019, more than 1 million visitors participated in state-fair activities, which is remarkable in a state with a total population of only 3.2 million, and with only three cities of greater than 100,000 in population. Of course, this year’s attendance, in preparation for the Iowa political caucuses, was inflated by an invasion of politicians and media personnel! During fair week, 24 Democratic presidential candidates showed up—22 on a single weekend. They not only cluttered the fair concourses, but they also tied up the airway, internet, and transport systems.

It was quite a spectacle.  There were the obligatory candidate pictures—viewing the sculpted butter cow, eating corn dogs, turning steaks on a grill, and for the geographically venturesome, a shot in front of a corn ethanol plant. Some even tried the dill-pickle ice cream. And poor “Captain,” Iowa’s largest boar (1,254 pounds), was exhausted by week’s end by all of the celebrity photo ops!

With all of the visiting candidates, Soap Box Corner was unusually crowded.  Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren essentially tied in the informal straw poll at the fair, with Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders finishing third and fourth.  For the most part, candidates said what farmers wanted to hear. Speakers generally spoke in favor of ethanol (some even liked E15); were against the current trade policy; and were mostly silent on climate change. Wearing my professorial hat, I am not sure that many of them would pass Ag101—even using Stanford’s liberal grading standards. 

Few candidates spoke with much nuance about agriculture. Many seemed to be thinking about an agriculture that perhaps existed in Iowa during the 1960s—one in which younger farmers had farming systems producing a broad array of crop and livestock products. But that is hardly the current reality. What I found most surprising was the implicit view that Iowa’s 87,000 famers were a set of small homogeneous farm units. In fact, there are huge economic and political differences among three groups.

One set contains a sizable number of retired farms which typically own moderate amounts of land that they now rent to others.  For this group, health insurance, declining land rents and social security are uppermost in their minds.  A second group is a younger, more venturesome group of farmers, who may own 160 acres, but who are aggressively trying to buy or rent an additional 1,000-2,000 acres. They also carry large loans for land and for huge machinery inventories.  For them, trade policy, interest rates, crop insurance, and health insurance are central matters of concern.  There is also a third set, comprised of multiple family generations, often organized as family corporations, who are intermediate in their ownership patterns, debt obligations, and political concerns.  None of the three groups is very happy, but it is the second set that has local bankers worried, since delinquent farm loans have now risen to a 20-year high.

But farmers often sound like baseball players. “Just wait until next year.”


Perhaps next year—god willing and the creek don’t rise—my report will be more upbeat.   At least we will know the outcome of the Iowa Caucuses. Maybe we will also know if the August 29 Bloomberg Report,“ U.S. Farmers May be Angrier, but Their Trump Love is Growing”, continues into 2020. But as 2016 showed, what farmers tell pollsters about their political preferences always deserves a fair amount of skepticism. On our farm, we will at least know the actual size of the 2019 corn crop, and whether our switch from Angus to Simmental bulls increased the rates-of-gain of our steers. 

In the meantime, it is back to Stanford—without a pitchfork—to duel with some of the brightest of the “Z” generation, and to work on a global food-security assessment for 2050.


During the academic year, Walter Falcon is the Helen C. Farnsworth Professor of International Agricultural Policy, Emeritus, at Stanford; and senior fellow, emeritus, at the the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. He is the former deputy director of the Center on Food Security and the EnvironmentHe spends summer with his wife, Laura, on their farm near Marion, Iowa. (

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Fighting to End Hunger at Home & Abroad:  Ambassador Ertharin Cousin shares her journey & lessons learned

A Conversation in Global Health with Ertharin Cousin

FSI Payne Distinguished Lecturer | Former Executive Director of the World Food Programme | TIME's 100 Most Influential People

RSVP for conversation & lunch: (please arrive at 11:45 am for lunch)

Professor Ertharin Cousin has been fighting to end global hunger for decades. As executive director of the World Food Programme from 2012 until 2017, she led the world’s largest humanitarian organization with 14,000 staff serving 80 million vulnerable people across 75 countries. As the US ambassador to the UN Agencies for Food and Agriculture, she served as the US representative for all food, agriculture, and nutrition related issues.

Prior to her global work, Cousin lead the domestic fight to end hunger. As chief operating officer at America’s Second Harvest (now Feeding America), she oversaw operations for a confederation of 200 food banks across America that served more than 50,000,000 meals per year.

Stanford School of Medicine Senior Communications Strategist Paul Costello will interview Professor Cousin about her experiences, unique pathway, and the way forward for ending the global hunger crisis.


Li Ka Shing Room 320 


Ertharin Cousin is a Visiting Scholar at the Center on Food Security and the Environment. She is also a distinguished fellow of global agriculture at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.  

She previously served as executive director of the World Food Programme from 2012 until 2017. In this role, Cousin led the world’s largest humanitarian organization with 14,000 staff serving 80 million vulnerable people across 75 countries. Cousin possesses more than 30 years of national and international nonprofit, government, and corporate leadership experience.  She maintains relationships with global government, business, and community leaders. She has published numerous articles regarding agriculture, food security, and nutrition. 

In 2009, Cousin was nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate as the US ambassador to the UN Agencies for Food and Agriculture in Rome. In this role Cousin served as the US representative for all food, agriculture, and nutrition related issues. Cousin regularly represented US interest in global leader discussions, including prime ministers, foreign and agriculture ministers, academics and business executives, regarding humanitarian and development activities.  Cousin helped identify and catalyze US government investment in food security and nutrition activities supported by the USAID Feed the Future program.  Cousin convened foreign media tours resulting in millions of conventional as well social media impressions.

Prior to her global hunger work, Cousin helped lead the US domestic fight to end hunger while serving as executive vice president and chief operating officer of America’s Second Harvest (now Feeding America). In this role Cousin led the operations, budgeting, and expenditures as well as the human resources, IT, and training activities of this national confederation of 200 foodbanks across America serving over 50,000,000 meals per year. Previously, Cousin served as senior vice president for Albertson’s Foods. As a corporate reporting officer, Cousin served as the Albertson lead for community relations, customer relations, legislative and regulatory affairs, industry and external relations, including communications serving as the company’s chief spokesperson. While serving at Albertson she was appointed by the US president to the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development where she helped oversee US government agriculture research investments worldwide.  Before Albertsons, Cousin also served in government as the White House Liaison to the State Department. She received the department’s Meritorious Service award for her work expeditiously and successfully addressing foreign policy issues which arose when the US hosted the Atlanta Olympics.

A Chicago native, Cousin is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago; the University of Georgia Law School, and the University of Chicago Executive Management Finance for Non-Financial Executives program. Cousin has received honorary doctorate degrees from universities around the globe.  She has been listed numerous times on the Forbes “100 Most Powerful Women” list, as the Fortune “Most Powerful Woman in Food and Drink,” on TIME’s “100 Most Influential People” list, and as one of the “500 Most Powerful People on the Planet” by Foreign Policy magazine.

Visiting Scholar at the Center on Food Security and the Environment
Krysten Crawford
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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."

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Áine Josephine Tyrrell
Nicole Feldman
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The Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI) at Stanford University is pleased to announce that former U.S. Ambassador and World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director Ertharin Cousin will return for a second year at Stanford. Cousin will serve as the Frank E. and Arthur W. Payne Distinguished Lecturer at FSI and Distinguished Fellow at the Center on Food Security and the Environment and the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law.

Cousin brings over 30 years of experience addressing hunger and food security strategies on both a national and international scale. As U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture, she focused on advocating for longer-term solutions to food insecurity and hunger, and at WFP she addressed the challenges of food insecurity in conflict situations.

We caught up with Cousin to ask about her plans for this upcoming school year.

If you had to pick out one thing that most concerns you in the realm of food security, what would it be?

Water access, particularly in terms of smallholder farmer centered irrigation and water management. The development community spent much of the past 10 years working to improve farmers’ access to the right seeds and tools – recognizing the need to increase the quality and quantity of their yields. A significant amount of work has also been performed related to improving private sector investment and to the development of markets including access for smallholder farmers.

Today there are approximately 500 million smallholder farmers in the world. The most vulnerable live and work in places where climate change creates ever more erratic rainy seasons. Particularly, in sub-Saharan Africa where 97 percent of all agriculture remains rain-fed. Too often the short rains don’t come, and the long rains produce insufficient precipitation. Inadequate policy management of diminishing water resources represents a significant problem which we must overcome to make agriculture productive and sustainable for the most vulnerable.

And what work have you been doing to address this issue?

I am working on a number of policy research and development projects. For example, I am co-chairing the Chicago Council on Global Affairs (CCGA) 2019 Global Food Security Symposium’s report exploring the linkages between water management and food security particularly as it relates to nutrition security. The report release will occur March 21, 2019 at the CCGA Food Security Symposium.

Over the past year, you also have been working on a project to encourage the private sector to create sustainable food systems. How is that going?

My work identifying and addressing policy-related challenges impacting private sector partnership and investment in global food system solutions continues. Globally, there is growing recognition that we cannot fix the broken global food system if we do not work to create collaborative efforts between public and private sector, academia, government, non-profits and larger society.

Governments, particularly those in developing countries, often lack both the financial resources and technical capacity required to perform the work and the investment necessary to fix our global food system. Governments and civil society must include private sector as an equal and desired partner. Government policies at the global, state and local level should support and encourage private sector participation.

Using my role here at Stanford as a platform to broker research and information both to private sector as well as to government, has proven quite successful over the past year. In very simple terms, helping global governments understand generating profit does not make the private sector a bad partner.

What successes have you had so far?

I was just in Amsterdam to meet with Royal DSM, a nutrition products manufacturer, with whom I developed a relationship during my tenure at the World Food Programme. In Kigali in Rwanda, DSM and several other partners - including the national government - have developed and are now operating the Africa Improved Foods company, the first European-type baby food manufacturing facility. European-type baby food differs from American products in terms of their lack of sweeteners and conservative use of food preservatives, lack of detectable pesticides (due to farming practices), and their stage-approach: they produce different products for the various stages of baby growth (from birth to 4 years) that cater to the specific nutritional needs of the child. Several farming cooperatives, representing approximately 10,000 Rwandan small farmers, form the sole supply chain for this baby food factory.

WFP serves as a catalyst market for the plant, purchasing the supplemental nutrition product distributed through the region’s targeted nutrition improvement program. The sustainability of the factory is directly related to the partners ability to grow (in addition to WFP) an institutional and a commercial consumer market for this easy-access, nutrient-rich food that is specifically made for children. I am assisting DSM and the government of Rwanda by helping to identify the policy changes required to ensure the sustainability of this public-private partnership. As a proof-of-concept, the success of AIF, will result in new public-private development opportunities. This initiative offers a case study demonstrating how collaboration between the private sector and government actually provides positive benefits for both farmers and nutritious food for consumers.

Why Stanford? How has being here helped your work?

Serving here at Stanford represents my first opportunity to work in academia on a full-time basis. I am a lawyer with over 30 years of experience of working on complicated domestic and global humanitarian and development issues; particularly, hunger related issues. I believe my experience adds value to any academic community. But in many institutions, the value of experience is not readily embraced, particularly because I don't have a PhD and haven’t spent 20 years in a classroom. At Stanford, I discovered collegial faculty, brilliant students and a recognition as well as a respect for my experience-based knowledge. I have received a welcoming response across the campus, collaborating with the law school, colleagues in the medical school, earth system sciences and the business school. The only limit to my participation and partnership with the amazing academic leaders here at Stanford has been time. I am quite looking forward to the opportunities for engagement provided by my additional time on campus.


The Payne Distinguished Lectureship is awarded to scholars with international reputations as leaders, with an emphasis on visionary thinking, practical problem solving, and the capacity to clearly articulate an important perspective on the global political and social situation. Past Payne Lecturers include Bill Gates, Nobel Laureate Mohamed El Baradei, UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot, and novelist Ian McEwan.

The Center on Food Security and the Environment (FSE) addresses critical global issues of hunger, poverty and environmental degradation and is a joint effort of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

The Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law is an interdisciplinary center for research on development in all of its dimensions:  political, economic, social and legal, and the ways in which these different dimensions interact with one another.

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