The challenge of feeding a population that is expected to grow in both size and consumption in the coming decades looms large. The availability of water—largely used for food production—is likewise an enormous challenge, made more difficult by the droughts and declining soil moisture associated with climate change.
The School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences is home to much of Stanford’s expertise in this area. This includes biophysical scientists and resource economists who study food resources, food security, and agricultural sustainability as well as scientists who study, monitor, and evaluate changes in groundwater and land systems.
What sets Stanford apart from other universities that study agriculture, or food policy, or water, or climate change, is our deep investment at the intersection of these issues.
With new faculty in areas such as geographic analysis, watershed analysis, and ecosystem services and benefits analysis, Stanford can bring an even more unique and innovative approach to this tangled but vitally important set of issues.
A Stanford team is demonstrating that an energy-related innovation—in this case solar-powered drip irrigation technology—can improve the nutritional status of entire regions.
A considerable portion of sub-Saharan Africa’s rural population is considered “food insecure,” surviving on less than $1 per person per day and without reliable access to plentiful, nutritious food. In many farming villages in Benin, the very short growing season—only three to six months of rainfall—means that people commonly spend over half of their income on outside food to get through the rest of the year. Until now, unforgiving topography and lack of access to reliable, affordable energy has made irrigation to extend the growing season impractical.
Led by Rosamond Naylor, the William Wrigley Professor in Earth Science and director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment, the team has found that villages receiving cost-effective solar irrigation systems are able to increase their production of crops such as tomatoes, okra, peppers, eggplants, and carrots, which are high not only in nutrition, but also in market value. The benefits of irrigation are thus shared more widely.
“The gains in nutrition and income impact families, villages, and the entire market area,” says Naylor.