Food security in regions affected by drought is influenced by a complex set of interactions between hydrological, agricultural, and social systems. Previous models examining the impact of drought on food security have not incorporated food trade and food movements at fine spatial scales, yet these components are critical parts of regional food systems. In sub-Saharan Africa droughts and floods account for approximately 80% of fatalities and 70% of the economic losses that are due to natural hazards. Zambia is particularly vulnerable to droughts, having high levels of malnutrition, poverty, income inequality, exposure to HIV/AIDS and malaria, and low levels of educational attainment. Zambia's agricultural production is rain-fed, which further increases vulnerability in the region. With the extreme vulnerability of the region, Zambia serves as an ideal place to study how the interactions between drought risk, crop production, trade, and policy affect food security. By incorporating the effects of trade and policy into predictive hydrological and agricultural models, this project is improving existing early warning systems for famine which rarely assess the capacity for a region to ameliorate drought via food transfers and trade.

This project's goal is to understand the effect of drought hazards in subsistence agriculture using a novel integrative framework that merges data, models, and knowledge of drought risk and crop production; their interactions with the dynamics of trade-based and aid-based responses; and their effect on household food security and consumption. We are addressing three questions: 1) What are the spatio-temporal scales of drought risk across Zambia and how does risk transfer into agricultural impacts? 2) What is the role of trade and domestic food policy on food security at local to national levels? 3) Can drought impacts be more effectively reduced by integrating an understanding of policy and food transfers into an agricultural drought early warning system? To answer these questions, we are collecting biophysical data to characterize historical droughts and their impacts on regional agriculture; examining household and market level data to characterize food security outcomes, market prices, and food sourcing; using complex network analysis to characterize food trade and flows; assessing market integration associated with price fluctuations and infrastructure to determine economic exposure and resilience at the household, community and district levels; examining how policies at the national scale constrain decisions at the local scale; and developing computational models for high resolution predictions and to explore probabilistic solutions for resource allocation and risk management. This project is the first to create an integrated model of food trade, household consumption and crop production at such fine spatial scales built on an empirical foundation in each dimension.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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Robert O'Connor
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Clark University
United States
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