Program examines how to feed world without wrecking it

"The world food crisis right now highlights everything that we do," said Roz Naylor, director of the Program on Food Security and the Environment (FSE). The program is focused on developing innovative solutions to the persistent—and worsening—problems of global hunger and environmental damage from agricultural practices.

"How do we feed a world of 8 to 9 billion people this century without destroying the environment in the process?" Naylor said. "How do we reduce chronic hunger among the roughly one billion people that live day in and day out in hunger?

"And a third question is, how do we redefine national and international security to really get at the heart of human security issues of having adequate nutrition, having adequate health and having adequate safety, in terms of resource availability, lack of conflict and so forth?"

Those three questions drive the research at FSE, a joint program of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and the Woods Institute for the Environment.

Naylor, along with deputy director Walter Falcon, wrote an opinion piece published in the May 18 issue of the San Francisco Chronicle (reprinted on this page) urging the United States to alter its current policies on biofuels, international food aid and agricultural research.

FSE draws on faculty from a number of disciplines, including economics, political science, history, law, medicine, earth sciences and civil engineering, as well as scholars from institutions outside of Stanford.

"It's a very diverse program in terms of the expertise that's brought to bear on these questions," Naylor said. "We're also connected with people in the Center for International Security and Cooperation who are looking at national security issues, and we're looking at what role hunger and resource stress play in those national security and conflict issues," she said.

There are approximately a dozen graduate students and a half-dozen undergraduate interns in the program, which entails numerous research projects and offers courses on subjects such as the world food economy, climate and agriculture, and pathways out of rural poverty.

The program also conducts outreach through a variety of international development and aid programs, including the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, as well as nongovernmental organizations and private-sector firms and foundations that play significant roles in the agricultural development and environment arenas.

"We're also involved in a set of countries where we have strong policy connections," Naylor said. In China, for example, FSE researchers work with the Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy. "They write about 10 to 15 memos directly to the premier every year, mainly about food and agricultural issues, including biofuels. And they have quite a bit of policy leverage directly on decisions that get made in the Chinese rural economy.

"Having an on-the-ground presence in China has really been a major part of our outreach," Naylor said. "We play a similar role in Indonesia, where we've had a long history of policy outreach."