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Using Geography to Fight Food Insecurity

It is a critical time for global food systems. Strained by population growth and the unpredictable threats of climate change, the food security of billions worldwide is under threat. To meet this challenge, Esri, the global leader in GIS technology, is unleashing the power of geography to strengthen food resilience for a more sustainable future.

According to the White House Press Office, climate change will have significant consequences for global food security. Changes in crop yields may impact food prices, and have effects on food processing, storage, transportation and retailing. In response, the Obama Administration launched the White House Climate Data Initiative. “[The Initiative] is working to connect farmers, food distributors, and agricultural businesses with the data, tools, and information they need to understand the impacts of climate change,” the Press Office said.

To support this initiative, Esri is utilizing its expertise of GIS technology to better visualize, understand, and improve our food systems. “[GIS] is already being used to show a more resilient world,” said Jack Dangermond, Esri CEO, at a White House event earlierthis year. GIS offers the ability to quickly and efficiently show powerful stories around data. As an integrative technology, GIS connects big data, cloud, and mobile with spatial analysis to help leaders in the public sector improve decision-making. These capabilities can tackle the large-scale challenges we face in regards to climate change.

“We recognized the unique role geography can play in being an ‘integrator’ of information that unlocks understanding,” said Susana Crespo, agriculture specialist at Esri, in an email to Redlands Daily. “In creating and sharing a spatially explicit understanding of food production across landscapes, we can make better decisions that lead to more sustainable outcomes.”

As laid out in their fact-sheet, Esri’s food resilience effort is composed of three actions:

#1. Unlocking authoritative data from public and private partners as live data feeds. Esri will work with government, NGO, and commercial partners to fill in data gaps and establish live feeds related to agricultural production, threats, climate and trade. If datasets do not currently exist, Esri will work with leading organizations to create this information. The following illustrates some of the data Esri and partners plan to share:

  • Geographies of global crop production
  • Monthly estimates of crop production
  • Monthly global crop assessments
  • US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Drought Monitor
  • Commodity stocks distribution

#2. Establishing a collaborative virtual laboratory that enables scientists and policy makers to explore and create spatial data. By incubatingideas and accelerating understanding, this virtual lab will serve as an online destination for food resilience partners to discover, contribute and share innovative resources. The lab offers a starting point for data and ideas and as more partners get involved, it will evolve and grow. Users will be able to explore and create data, maps and analyses to answer questions such as:

    • What is the current state of global agricultural production?
    • How are extreme weather events affecting production and distribution?
    • Where are people most vulnerable to sudden changes in food supply?
    • What are the spatial/temporal patterns of commodity trade flows

#3. Hosting an Executive Whiteboard Session centered on food resilience. This session will bring together leaders from public and private sectors to develop a global plan and framework for action. Attendees will collaborate to generate a list of prioritized datasets, maps and applications to improve understanding and support for our global food systems.

Governments, citizens and organizations around the world must work together to create a more sustainable future. With Esri, we can better understand the symbiotic nature of our global food system and take actions that ensure the integrity of our food supply for years to come.

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