Green Track (C-40): Response Strategies – Water Supplies and Food Security

- Session Description (click to collapse)

This session focuses on identifying and prioritizing data gaps and actionable information needed to develop and improve adaptation strategies for food and water security. We will also have a short presentation on water security and adaptation in Kenya.

A changing climate will have numerous and severe implications for food and water security. These impacts will occur via weather and climate, water availability, and diseases/pests affecting crops and animals, among other pathways. Food security, water security, and health impacts will reflect and be exacerbated by underlying inequities. It is imperative to adapt food production and distribution methods, as well as water supply strategies, and to obtain the best available data in shaping the adaptation that occurs. The discussion will draw on the public health concept of co-benefits, considering ways that climate change mitigation and adaptation are (and are not) intertwined, and approaches to agriculture with joint benefit for both goals. It must be recognized that food production and water supplies operate as systems, with any intervention having multiple ramifications throughout; research is also needed to predict and assess these consequences in order to prevent and address problems.

The discussion will examine adaptation strategies to promote food security, ideally while mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, in several domains: food production, food distribution, water supplies, and “other,” including general development strategies.

After raising a set of issues, we will use technological tools and discussion to arrive at sets of priority needs for research and actionable information. This discussion will draw upon the following frameworks, as well as concepts brought in by participants:

  • Risk management, in which priorities are set based on the likelihood of a threat coming to pass and the magnitude of potential consequences
  • A public health-oriented framework, in which priorities are set based on factors that include the extent to which an approach is likely to be effective, feasibility of action, cost, ethical acceptability, political and social will, and potential for unintended risks [drawn from the Intervention Decision Matrix by Fowler and Dannenberg]

Recommended Resources

- Moderator (click to collapse)

Roni Neff

Roni Neff is the Research and Policy Director of the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for a Livable Future (CLF) and is an Assistant Scientist with the school’s Departments of Environmental Health Sciences and Health Policy & Management. Her research focuses on public health policy and social science themes relevant to understanding and changing food systems, including addressing disparities and promoting environmental sustainability. Particular interests include public health links to food system ecological concerns (climate change, peak oil, soil), public health and agricultural policy (especially the Farm Bill), and access to sustainably produced/healthy food. Her climate change research has focused on food-related greenhouse gas emissions and on measuring and communicating these impacts. Dr. Neff is editing a textbook on food systems and public health on behalf of the Center for a Livable Future, to be published by Jossey Bass.  She oversees the Center for a Livable Future's policy activities, including efforts to advance public health priorities in the 2012 Farm Bill.  She also oversees the Center's research activities, including doctoral fellowships and directed research.  CLF is an academic center focused on connections between diet, food production, environment, and public health (

Dr. Neff has worked in public health research, policy, and practice for 20 years. She is a member of the Delta Omega Public Health Honor Society, Alpha Chapter.


Ph.D., Public Health, The Johns Hopkins University, 2006
S.M., Health and Social Behavior, Harvard University School of Public Health, 1997
A.B., Brown University, 1989

- Notes (click to collapse)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Water Supplies and Food Security: Response Strategies

Facilitator: Roni Neff, PhD MS - Research & Policy Director, Center for a Livable Future; Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Moderator: Nathan Bos, PhD - Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory

Introduction by Roni Neff

Initial Poll questions

Jonathan Cooper
Mark Ohlstrom - researcher UM college Park, climate implications on food security
Tiffany Smith - JHU student Earth & Planetary Science, Land surface hydrology, routing, etc.
Melissa Poulsen 
Jared Margulies
Steven Lloyd - NASA Goddard, 
Bernard Kozlovsky - medical practitioner
Katie Lima - Environment, Energy, Sustainability, and Health Institute; manages farmers market
Luke MacDonald - Program Manager for JHU Global Water Program - contaminant transport in rural India
Paul Skorochod - City of Baltimore 
Sree Sivasankuran - Independent consultant on WR, climate, and sustainability
Mohammed Behnassi - 
Robert Marten - Rockefeller Foundation, Climate & Health Team; work on agriculture issues and food security
Glen Fountain - 
Jeff Bergstrom - Master's student
John Anderson - NOAA Climate office
Candice Dalrymple - Interdisciplinary Instruction JHU campus office

Summary of poll results presented by Roni Neff to look at demographics

Food production 
Food system adaptation - distribution systems

Where we are - focus on Adaptation - "how systems can adapt to the threats and realities that are ocurring as a result of climate change"
All are affected by a series of concurrent ecological crises

Objective: assimilation of actionable information
- what are needs for new research and research that is ready to be translated into action?

"Planning" - bringing together stakeholders and coalitions and looking at the process of bringing about change rather than the content 

Based on an interactive poll, participants select focus on agriculture needs (others receiving votes: water supplies, food distribution, planning) 

What do we need to know?
-Aquifer characteristics and subsurface hydrogeology - well covered in US, but very few other regions have 
-In areas receiving variable rainfall, what are the options for potential shift in crops that are grown, GM crops, biotech?
(crop suitability and agricultural growing methods)
-Prioritize less water-intensive crops according to soils data (land characteristics)
-Virtual Water concept embedded in food - consumer labeling program on food labels
-Discovery of new findings and disseminating 
-Application of incentives and proactive strategies to manage supply (price stability for producers and consumers)
-Options for increased resilience due to changes that are happening and the associated uncertainty (insurance schemes to protect farmers, generation of off-farm income)
-Learning local ('indigenous') knowledge and scale-up
-Balancing short term and long term strategies and understanding marginal gains in demand/supply interactions
-Understanding interrelated ecological phenomena - (i.e. syncronous plant blooming and bee pollination)
-Availability of water through infrastructure - rapid deployment of piezometers / gauge stations in developing countries
(Also, communication of availablity) **Need information system to connect hydrogeologic data and crop systems
-Famine Early Warning System communicate to decision makers (more detailed information needed)

Thoughts on supply/demand interactions as it relates to acriculture:
Food loss (wasted food in production chain from agriculture sector) 30% of food produced lost
- Need a better understanding of where and why food is lost (supply chain inefficiency, lack of information, insufficient infrastructure) 
Consumption behavior (i.e. meat)
Could "lost" food from one system be input in another system to reduce volume lost? (i.e. compost, biofuel, animal feeds)
Rationalize international trade in food commodities
Food aid and the market forces that have the potential to cause local market inefficiencies which stress local production
-Need for a better understanding of politics and national-level governance and the international 'ripple effect'
Population growth and labor intensive farming

What are possible gaps in information that would influence decision by farmers?
-Risk reduction
-Agriculture methods for resilience
-Move from information patchwork to more comprehensive database

Barriers to climate adaptation strategies among farmers (including cultural, social, mental health factors facing farmers)
-Gender bias
-Issues of power and ownership (land tenure), large corporate influence (Monsanto, Syngenta, etc.)
-Challenge unethical agribusiness practices
-Farm debt
-Cheap oil- how does this change agricultural practice?

Local/Regional level decision makers - what kind of research translation do they need to address issues for food and water security?
-Price information (real-time) as well as cost analysis of adaptation alternatives
-Must have information on the public health impacts of food insecurity - this must be presented as a cost impact in terms of GDP loss, contribution to local economic growth, etc.
-Need shorter actionable briefs (1-3 pgs) vs. lengthier reports for policymakers
-Outreach to private sector, journalists, NGO's/advocates, health sector, etc.

Where are the priorities in these lists of research needs?
Recall: Risk management - 1) Likelihood of threat coming to pass; 2) magnitude of potential consequenses
Public health orientation -- effectiveness, feasibility, cost, ethical acceptability, political & social will, potential for unintended risks & unintended benefits

(ranking exercise)
Discussion of poll results to prioritize research needs
1- Availability of infrastructure-info systems
2-Database of hydro characteristics by region
3- Land characteristics of crops/water
4- Health implications (for policy makers)
5- Scaling up indigenous knowledge
6- Security implications (for policy makers)
7- Better communication to policy makers
8- Food loss and supply chain - more info
9- Options for adapting to changing rainfall (crops, GM)
10- Cost analysis (for policy makers)

Is there anything not on this list that maybe deserves consideration?
-Examples of successes / analyses of failures
-Capacity building
-Virtual Water as a tool for analyzing food production
-Weight of ranking based on feasibility vs. ranking on importance
-How to get farmers at the table and involved in this discussion?



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