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CAREER: A National Strategy for a Resilient Food Supply Chain


Distribution through complex supply chains is critical to food security. In the United States, the food supply chain has largely been sheltered from disruptions. However, this could change in the future unless preventative actions are taken. Several risks to food supply chains in the U.S. are increasing in potential frequency and severity. Extreme weather disruptions to agricultural production, reliance on unsustainable irrigation resources, and degraded infrastructure represent future threats to food supply chains in the United States. This project seeks to (1) articulate the interdependent infrastructure networks that support the national food supply chain, (2) evaluate the exposure of the food supply chain to key risks, and (3) pinpoint vulnerabilities in the interdependent infrastructure networks that underpin the food supply chain. <br/><br/>The overarching scientific question of this research is: How resilient is the food supply chain of the United States to unsustainable water use, extreme weather, and degraded infrastructure? The supporting science questions are: What infrastructure supports the food supply chain? How exposed is the food supply chain to risk? What vulnerabilities exist in the interdependent infrastructure systems? What is the buffering capacity of irrigation to extreme weather? To address these questions, it is essential to evaluate the national food supply chain as a complex interdependent network. This is because food supply chains in the U.S. depend on an intricate web of interconnected infrastructure, such as irrigation, roads, ports and harbors, rail lines, and navigable waterways. This research will develop a framework to enable the scientific and policy communities to assess the resiliency of food supply chains. The hypothesis of this research is that there are "hot spots" of vulnerability to these risks in the U.S. food supply chain. Hot spots may exist that are not obvious when each infrastructure is considered in isolation. This research will provide a detailed understanding of the interdependent infrastructure networks that support national and global food security. Discovery of critical vulnerabilities in the food supply chain of the United States could be used to prioritize national infrastructure investment funds. Now is an opportune time to identify infrastructure investment priorities, as calls for investment in U.S. infrastructure systems are increasing. As part of this project, formal communication training will be incorporated into the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department curriculum to train the engineer of the future. The PI will develop and introduce a short course on science communication for engineers. This project will utilize the scientific knowledge obtained to develop an online, interactive Food Supply Chain Risk map. This visualization system will be used to engage K-12 students in a Girls Adventures in Mathematics, Engineering, and Science (GAMES) camp, undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), policy makers and the media through the Institute of Government and Public Affairs (IGPA), and the general public through farmers market demonstrations.<br/><br/>This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Megan Konar
University of Illinois - Urbana-Champaign
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