Forests Vs Food (Adam – DPhil Geography & Environment)


My name is Adam Formica, and I study at
the school of geography and environment, and I work on environmental conservation. So about 70% of the Earth’s ice-free land right now is agriculture,
about 1/4 of our emissions, human emissions come from agriculture, forestry,
and other land uses, and we know we’re gonna have to add another few billion people on the planet so, I was really thinking about the drivers of
environmental change and and how to address those. And in conservation we talk about four, so we talk about land-use change, we talk about climate change, we talk about poaching, and invasive species, and I wanted
to address one of those, and the biggest one seemed to be agriculture, and specifically I thought about
using quantitative methods to address agricultural expansion and specifically I build computer simulations of
agricultural supply chains and I think about areas where those supply chains
could be made more efficient. I think right now there’s really
a turning point in agriculture, there’s quite a bit of data, it’s an industry that’s ten thousand years old that, I guess, we’ve been constantly improving, but there’s still more improvement that can be made. I think with agriculture we can either think
about consumers or producers, obviously there are things that we can do on the consumption side, so we should definitely be
eating less meat and avoiding dairy, but we can also reduce food waste on the demand side. I guess on the supply side,
where my work focuses, I think we need to accept to some extent that people make the personal choices that they do, but given that demand, how do we more
efficiently provide that supply. There’s a lot of data that’s being collected to track agricultural products moving through the supply chain but there’s quite a bit that can be done with that data, and so that’s where really these
computational methods come in, where we can hopefully push agriculture closer to the theoretical maximum of its potential, and helping to grow these crops more efficiently could drive down the land that’s needed to to produce them, given the demand stays constant – we don’t want to be consuming more. I think the challenges for me throughout have been trying to make a realistic
enough simulation that’s true to the supply chains as they exist. I think is very difficult from an academic vantage point in the ivory tower to really connect with people who work in the industry, and actually come up with recommendations that are useful because it’s ultimately those who are practicing
agriculture who we want to influence either through policy or through their operations and so I actually had to invest quite a bit of time into building those relationships with people who are halfway across the world, the actual growers. There’s lots of different work that goes on when you talk about deforestation and quantitative algorithmic thinking and I think there’s a lot of work that goes on with classification of satellite imagery to look at where forests are,
where forests are disappearing. I guess I’m more interested in the mechanisms
by which that’s happening, we know it’s agriculture, we know that most of our land is used to grow food that we eat, so the overall goal with this work is to think about how we’re producing food, to reduce the amount of area
that’s needed to grow that food, to leave more space for the forest, and so, there are a variety of mechanisms
that people have been looking at, payments for ecosystem services, certain incentives to allow the forests
to remain standing, those ideas have been
floating around for decades now but we’re still losing forests rapidly and we know who the producers are and obviously we need to change the regulatory environment but we also need to make it possible for them to keep producing food that we need, and to make them profitable, so this seems to me one of the shortest paths to leaving the beautiful tropical forests of Southeast Asia, of the Amazon, intact.

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