Against the backdrop of climate change, a question looms large: Can humans feed all the world’s people? There are already 842 million undernourished people on the planet, and recent research suggests that food supplies are increasingly at risk as temperatures rise. If we do nothing to address agricultural practices and climate change, the picture of human hunger looks dire as our population heads towards ten billion in 2050. David Lobell, an agricultural ecologist at Stanford University who works in the emerging field of crop informatics, wants to brighten this picture.
Lobell is working to determine how the world can increase crop yields—that is, get more food without expanding farmland—in the changing environment, while also mitigating long-term damage to the planet. His work examines regions from sub-Saharan Africa to South Asia and staple crops from corn to wheat. To conduct his research, he culls and analyzes existing data on weather patterns, agricultural practices, and resources such as water and soil. In a 2013 study, Lobell determined that corn is more vulnerable to extreme heat and drought than previously thought—a finding that has major implications for helping corn farmers optimize their output.