Research News

UB faculty awarded grants to address food inequity in Global South

For three days, participants at the Community for Global Health Equity's Food Equity Ideas Lab worked to develop innovative and novel research ideas to address the lack of food equity among small-scale farmers in the Global South. Photo: Douglas Levere

By ERIN SWEENEY

Published April 11, 2017

UB’s Community for Global Health Equity (CGHE) has announced the winning research teams from its inaugural Ideas Lab workshop — “Seeding Food Equity for Global Health” (FEIL) — which was held in late January.

The goal of the FEIL was to facilitate and amplify transdisciplinary research among UB artists, scholars and scientists to promote food equity among farming communities in the Global South — Africa, Central and Latin America, and most of Asia. Fourteen faculty members and four PhD candidates were selected from a competitive pool of applicants to become Food Equity Fellows.

The selected fellows represent a breadth of cross-disciplinary knowledge and experience, ranging from education to behavioral economics, communication to computer science, and urban planning to mathematics. Fellows were not required to have pre-existing knowledge about food systems, simply an interest in exploring cross-disciplinary collaboration to address global health inequities.

The “Seeding Food Equity Ideas Lab” was modeled after workshops designed by KnowInnovation Inc., a creativity facilitation firm. Ideas Labs (IL) are active, creative workshops during which participants develop innovative and novel research ideas that cut across traditional disciplinary boundaries.

During an IL, academics and professionals gather to articulate, explore and address a problem that may be outside their own fields of study or work. Teams of participants bring their unique disciplinary knowledge to develop novel solutions in response to complex problems. CGHE’s Food Equity Ideas Lab was the first Ideas Lab of its kind at UB.

For three days, fellows worked in teams to craft research proposals to address the lack of food equity among small-scale farmers in the Global South. Fellows were asked to focus on multidisciplinary strategies — rather than narrow approaches in their individual fields — to create innovative ways to address the workshop call.

In order to facilitate fellows’ rapid understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing small farmers in the Global South, several guest speakers spoke and supported teams throughout the workshop.

Biraj Patnaik of Amnesty International, formerly an adviser to the Commissioners on the Right to Food in India; Dimitris Herrera Hernández from Cornell University; and Marielle Dubbeling from the Resource Center for Urban Agriculture and Forestry Foundation provided country-specific context and presented case studies of farmer experiences.

Over the course of the workshop, teams continuously formed and diverged as fellows challenged themselves to collaborate with colleagues from unfamiliar disciplinary perspectives as they strove to create innovative research ideas. Teams were required to comprise at least three different disciplines, therefore facilitating cross-disciplinary conversation.

Two teams of faculty fellows were awarded funding from the UB Community for Global Health Equity.

One team, focused on ready-to-scale technological innovations, is testing the feasibility of using Google Street View data to map current and potential land use opportunities for agricultural production, starting in Thailand.

Team members include So Ra Baek, assistant professor, Department of Urban and Regional Planning; Martha Bohm, professor, Department of Architecture; John Ringland, associate professor, Department of Mathematics, College of Arts and Sciences (CAS); Wenyao Xu, assistant professor, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; and Wit Wichaidit, PhD candidate, Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health, School of Public Health and Health Professions (SPHHP).

The second team, focused on the Dominican Republic, will examine the “double burden” that middle-income countries face as undernourishment declines, yet malnutrition and obesity increase. The team will study how farmers’ participation in the local, national and global supply chains influences nutritional and health outcomes.

Team members include Jessica Cao, assistant professor, Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health; Jaume Franquesa, assistant professor, Department of Anthropology, CAS; Lucia Leone, assistant professor, Department of Community Health and Health Behavior, SPHHP; Laura Mangan, coordinator, Civic Engagement and Public Policy Research Initiative; Sarah Robert, associate professor, Graduate School of Education; Leo Wang, professor, Department of Geography; Marion Werner, associate professor, Department of Geography; and Jessica Gilbert and Xinghe Liu, PhD candidates, Department of Geography.

Both teams will execute their projects within 18 months and intend to seek additional funding from external sources.

The research of UB’s FEIL Fellows and collaborating faculty in the UB Community for Global Health Equity lays the groundwork for developing evidence-based policy and planning to create equitable food systems in the Global South.

More information on UB faculty’s work on food equity in the Global South is available at the Global Health Equity website. Questions about the Food Equity Ideas Lab research teams or other ongoing global projects on food equity at CGHE can be directed to Samina Raja.

The Food Equity Ideas Lab was sponsored by UB’s Community for Global Health Equity, with additional support from the Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab in the School of Architecture and Planning. CGHE was launched in 2015 with funding from the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development.

CGHE is hosting a second Ideas Lab in June focused on the impact of air quality on children's health within the first 100 days of life. The lab will be led by Kasia Kordas, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health.

Faculty members from all disciplines at UB are invited to take part in the Air Quality Ideas Lab. For more information about the Air Quality project is available online.