Laura Vang Rasmussen
Can agricultural intensification and expansion perversely lead to lower food security among local people? That's the question that 2016-2017 Banting Postdoctoral Fellow Laura Vang Rasmussen is exploring in her research with the Landscapes and Livelihoods Lab at the UBC Faculty of Forestry.
Across the planet, intensification and expansion of agriculture are rapidly increasing. Although the very point of agricultural intensification and expansion is to create more food to reduce hunger, paradoxically the two processes may lead to reduced food security. This is because 1) intensification often replaces subsistence crops with cash crops and reduces food crop diversity, and 2) expansion is the leading cause of forest loss, which can shrink wild food availability. Despite these potential repercussions for rural people’s food security, rhetoric in food security policy has focused on high yields as the solution to perennially rising food demands while leaving the role of low-yielding subsistence crops and forests relatively unexplored. The Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship allows me to help fill this knowledge gap. I will analyze how agricultural intensification and expansion may undermine rural people’s dietary diversity across spatial scales. First, I will explore where subsistence agriculture is being transformed through intensification and expansion and how these two processes correlate with indicators of dietary quality. To do so, I will overlay global land use/cover data sets with nutritional datasets. Second, I will zoom in on sites representing a chronosequence of landscape transformation stages to explore whether ‘nutritional transitions’ are happening locally and identify those situations in which intensification and expansion perversely lead to lower food security. Finally, I will synthesize across scales to develop recommendations on the relation between intensification and expansion and dietary quality which should be of interest to stakeholders pursuing food security for rural populations.
Why did you decide to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship at UBC? Did you consider other opportunities?
The University of British Columbia (UBC) is among the top universities in the world and the Faculty of Forestry is one of the world’s leading institutions for research on landscape transformations. It has recently been instrumental in advancing methods to link these transformations and nutritional changes – a core theme in my project. I can rely on outstanding expertise and partners of my project including Dr. J. Rhemtulla and Dr. S. Gergel. Moreover, a postdoctoral fellowship at UBC in the ‘Landscapes and Livelihoods Lab' with a focus on land use changes provides a unique opportunity to build upon collaborations between the Faculty of Forestry and the UBC top-tier Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability where I will collaborate with the Canada Research Chair Prof. N. Ramankutty, an expert on food security.
What advice do you have for new postdoctoral fellows?
That it is paramount to begin working with relevant stakeholders and decision-makers from the very beginning of a given project in order to move research into policy and action.
What is the most enjoyable aspect of your postdoctoral fellowship?
My project is not only an excellent fit with existing agendas and expertise at the Faculty of Forestry, the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship also provides an opportunity to conduct research offering deep insight on a relatively unexplored issue – that is, the relation between agricultural intensification and expansion and dietary quality. Yet, to address this issue, it is key to have access to world-class facilities and build on strong collaborations. I find it very enjoyable that the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Faculty of Forestry UBC offers such an opportunity.