Meet the Nourishing the Planet Advisory Group: David Lobell

In this regular series we profile advisors of the Nourishing the Planet project. This week, we feature David Lobell, Assistant Professor in Environmental Earth System Science, and a Center Fellow with the Program on Food Security and the Environment, at Standford University.

(Photo credit: Standford University)

Name: David Lobell

Affiliation: Stanford University

Location: Stanford, CA

Bio: David Lobell is an Assistant Professor at Stanford University in Environmental Earth System Science, and a Center Fellow in Stanford’s Program on Food Security and the Environment. His research focuses on identifying opportunities to raise crop yields in major agricultural regions, with a particular emphasis on adaptation to climate change. Prior to his current appointment, Dr. Lobell was a Senior Research Scholar at FSE from 2008-2009 and a Lawrence Post-doctoral Fellow at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory from 2005-2007. He received a PhD in Geological and Environmental Sciences from Stanford University in 2005, and a Sc.B. in Applied Mathematics, Magna Cum Laude from Brown University in 2000.

Recent Work:

What is the relationship between agriculture and global hunger? Agriculture plays a critical role in hunger, both in providing the food to eat and providing the income with which to purchase basic needs. I think it’s a remarkable success that agriculture has historically been able to keep average food supply per capita at sufficient levels, even with rapid population growth. But obviously there are a lot of problems with access around the world and there is a lot of progress needed just to keep up with growing demand.

What is the relationship between climate change and agriculture? At a fundamental level, climate change will force most institutions involved with agriculture, ranging from poor farmers to international companies, to rethink how they do business. The pace of changes we are seeing, and will continue to see, are unprecedented in agriculture’s history. For some, climate change will provide great opportunities to grow and expand, but for most people, especially in the developing world, it threatens to make harsh conditions even harsher.

Can you explain how agriculture can help farmers to both adapt to and mitigate climate change? There are a lot of proposed strategies for adapting to climate change, as well as for using agriculture to mitigate emissions. Without going through each, I can say there is a general need to be more rigorous in evaluating these options, how well they actually work, and thinking creatively about new options and potential co-benefits. For example, some strategies to improve soils could help both for mitigation and adaptation, although exactly how much is not yet clear. I also expect that agriculture will only be able to do so much, and other measures like improving social safety nets will be important.

What sorts of innovations, projects, policies, etc, would you like to see implemented to address hunger and climate change? In general, I think more overall investment in agricultural research will be important, as well as sharing knowledge and resources, such as genetic material, across borders. I would also like to see more effort to identify ongoing actions happening on the ground, and to evaluate their effectiveness. I think this is an area where the Worldwatch Institute is doing a great service.

Why should food consumers in the United States care about the state of agriculture in other countries? My own reasons for caring are that I am convinced agricultural improvements represent a key pathway out of poverty, and that reducing poverty and human suffering is a worthy goal. With climate change, I also think the countries that caused the problem have some responsibility to help identify solutions.

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