How can we ensure food security in a time of uncertainty?

Meha Jain, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Sustainable Food Systems Initiative, discussed that question in front of roughly 50 Yale faculty members, graduate students and other community members on Wednesday at Kroon Hall. She gave her lecture as part of the weekly Research Seminar Series held by Yale’s School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

During the talk, Jain cited extensive research she has conducted in India to advocate for adapting to climate change in order ultimately to increase crop yield.

“Just by adaptation, farmers could reduce yield losses by environmental change by 50 percent,” Jain said.

She began her talk by enumerating the problems facing crop production today, including the degradation of global agricultural sectors and the inverse relationship between population growth and declining agricultural yields.

Significant adaptation could not come sooner, Jain said: Studies have shown that food production would have to increase by 75 percent in the coming decades to ensure global food security. Jain defined food security as the point at which people have access to sufficient quantities of affordable and nutritious food.

The solution, Jain said, must come from targeted geographic interventions focused on how farming decisions are made, from sowing methods to planting schedules.

To explain her points, she detailed her own research, which uses remote sensing technologies and large-scale geospatial analyses to examine not only the biophysical effects of climate change, but also the economic and social factors that contribute to declining crop yields as well. Despite the inevitable effects of skyrocketing temperatures and irrigation inconsistencies, closing gaps in crop yield remains feasible.

“What I focus on with my group is identifying ways that we would be able to increase production in the face of environmental change,” she said.

Jain used wheat production in India as an example. Since the country accounts for 17.74 percent of the worldwide population and is one of the largest global wheat producers, the threat of food insecurity is increasingly serious there. During her research, she investigated steps Indian farmers could take to improve crop yields, like sowing wheat crops earlier and better distributing fertilizer.

“I think a huge benefit [of] bringing outside speakers who we’re interested in is that we promote” collaboration, said Mark Bradford, the organizer of the event and a professor at the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

Tiffany Ng | tiffany.ng@yale.edu