The World Food Prize is a coveted award recognizing people who have increased the quantity, quality, and availability of food for the world. This year’s winner is a scientist and former farmer Cynthia Rosenzweig, who plans to donate all her $250,000 winnings to research on climate change and food.
Rosenzweig is the head of the Climate Impacts Group at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies at Columbia University, and her area of expertise is climate change. Rosenzweig was actually one of the first researchers to project how the changing climate would affect North American crops in the 1980s.
To measure the more detailed impact of climate change on crop production, she expanded her computer models to analyze global crop projections. “What these models do is basically grow crops in the computer. You actually specify a planting date when you put the seeds in. And then the inputs of daily weather, daily temperature, daily precipitation and also solar radiation and the CO2 level in the atmosphere. So, I worked with crop modeling colleagues, and we added in the equations for higher CO2 effects on the crops,” explains Rosenzweig.
In 1994, she truly published her findings on the threat climate posed to the world. She observed the stark truth that the food systems in developing countries would face the greatest impact through downward pressure on yields, especially for the poorest farmers in the world.
This is why Rosenzweig founded the “Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project” (AgMIP), where a team of more than 1,000 global researchers work on climate modeling and agriculture. The research is stakeholder-driven, meaning firstly farmers, planners, and national decision-makers are listened to and their responses are driven into protocols.
Rosenzweig’s work, spanning four decades of research, has hugely contributed to the recognition of the global community’s food problems and predicting climate change’s impact on food systems. She and her partnering organizations also help guide countries with expert solutions to prevent food insecurities.
For example, the AgMIP has an Adaptations team or A-team, which works to reduce the devastating impacts of climate change. “If the pattern of rainfall is changing, let’s develop and evolve the agricultural systems to have planting dates when the rain is occurring. We’re looking at heat and drought tolerant crops to recommend,” Rosenzweig explains.
With climate anxiety skyrocketing, it’s hard to feel like there is hope for the future. Rosenzweig works day in and out battling this feeling and can offer us some hope. “Because I’ve been so fortunate in my career to work with people all over the world, my fellow crop modelers, my wonderful climate scientists, the AgMIP community, to help their countries respond to climate change – it gives me hope. There is such an energy around helping save the planet,” she states.
She explains that observing the collective effort people are putting in to provide food security is extremely inspiring, especially when positive results and solutions come from it. So, take this as your motivation to help out in any way you can, go protest big polluting corporations, choose that eco-friendly detergent, donate to a good cause, and every little help in the battle to save our wonderful planet.