Investing in Food Security

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beddowEditor's note: Jason Beddow passed away unexpectedly on April 14, 2016, shortly after this story was published.

Jason Beddow can often be found at his desk analyzing data delivered by partners from all over the world. His work as a research assistant professor in the Department of Applied Economics helps bridge the gaps between climate change, scientific and technological advances and agricultural policy to uncover cost-effective solutions to global food challenges.

“One of our primary concerns is sustainable solutions to food security concerns,” says Beddow (Ph.D.–'12, applied economics). “Ultimately, I hope my work will help reduce the incidence of undernourishment and starvation over the long haul.”

Originally drawn to the University of Minnesota by the work of applied economics professors Vernon Ruttan and Philip Pardey, Beddow moved to Minnesota as a Ph.D. student in 2005. In 2013, he took on his current position, which has allowed him to collaborate with the International Science and Technology Practice and Policy (InSTePP) Center and has provided the opportunity to travel to South America, Europe, Australia and Africa.

Since 2013, Beddow has written or collaborated on 18 publications. Beddow tends to take an explicitly spatial approach in blending economics with biology. One example is his recent paper in the Journal of Economic History, which showed that the changing location of U.S. corn production had important impacts on food supplies. By bringing economics and hard numbers into the equation, Beddow has been able to provide funding organizations with vital information on where their funds are most needed.

Beddow often focuses on food security issues related to crop pests and diseases. This covers everything from looking at the impact of a specific disease to exploring how to increase wheat yields in sub-Saharan Africa. Often this requires a close examination of a region’s water supply, temperature and soil conditions.

In his work, Beddow stresses the need to look beyond scientific norms and agricultural models to uncover the real economic and environmental constraints faced by farmers and how they address them.

“In Kenya, we meet extensively with farmers; people on the ground know what they are doing,” explains Beddow. “Farmers in these areas are smart and know about fertilizers, but in many of these places it simply is not cost-effective to use them.”

Research and development remains a key component to sustainably solving the world’s food shortages by 2050. Bringing new technology to developing world countries is an important piece of the puzzle that has proven difficult for researchers until now. Through their research, Beddow and his collaborators hope to clarify how likely it is for a specific new ag technology to spillover and truly affect agriculture in these areas.

“Farming is as much a business as it is a livelihood. If we want farmers to adopt new technologies, we need to make it economically sustainable for them to do so.”

- Shelly Gustafson