Diversification of the supply chain is crucial to avoid ‘food shock’ in cities

PICTURE: Magnitude of shocks in US cities due to a 100-year food supply shock event. The magnitude of the shocks is expressed as a fraction of the average annual food intake in each city. Darker view After

Credit: Michael Gomez, Penn State

Diversifying the food supply in cities can go a long way to alleviating the “food shock” – a sudden drop in the food supply due to unforeseen events, according to a team of researchers from Penn State and the University of Canada. Northern Arizona, who developed a risk model linking supply chain diversity to the likelihood of a city experiencing food shocks.

“The model is simple, operationally useful and independent of risk,” the researchers report today (July 8) in Nature. “Using this method, cities can improve their resilience to food supply shocks through policies that increase the diversity of the food supply chain.”

Researchers studied four types of food – crops, live animals, animal feed and meat – over a four-year period from 2012 to 2015, when there were droughts and production shocks in the Great Plains and western United States.

“Cities are fundamentally dependent on other regions for the provision of food and other basic resources,” said Alfonso Mejia, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Penn State. “We looked at food because it is interconnected with other critical regional systems – water and energy – and food production is intrinsically linked to climate variability and change. We wanted to apply the basic lessons of the natural world – biodiverse ecosystems are more resistant to shock, learned through millennia of adaptation to disturbances of all kinds – to our human food systems. “

Mejia notes that the main finding of their work is that they were able to find a distinct and predictable data-driven relationship between the diversity of the cities’ supply chain and the possibility of the city experiencing a food supply disruption. . The researchers found that the greater the diversity of the supply chain, the lower the likelihood of that city experiencing a food shock.

“If a city’s food sources come primarily from neighboring areas, then its supply chain will not be very diverse,” said Michael Gomez, a doctoral student in civil engineering at Penn State. “It’s not just distance, there are other factors that impact diversity.”

Some of the variables important for resilience to food shocks include location, climate, characteristics of the supply network, and level of urbanization. If all the beef in a city came from Texas during the drought, for example, then that city would have experienced a food shock when it comes to beef during that time.

“There are a number of things that will have a ripple effect on the food supply chain,” Gomez said. “Drought, heat waves, floods, cyber attacks, global pandemics.”

Originally, the available food trade data covered 70 cities, including New York and Los Angeles, but Gomez expanded its database to include information on the 284 designated metropolitan areas in the United States, making their results more solid.

Cities may experience issues with supply chain diversity as they source products from a few sources, places with similar climates or limited geographies, among others, according to the researchers.

The researchers used a traditional engineering approach to examine city food supplies. They took the 100-year flood risk analysis framework and applied it to food shocks and diversity.

“The idea was to provide cities with an operational means to quantify resilience and ultimately support actions that can build resilience through supply chain diversity,” said Mejia. “In principle, with our approach, a city can determine how diverse its supply chain is and how much protection it has against food shock. If it decides that there is not enough protection, it can then determine, in part based on other cities’ “experience, how much diversity in the food chain they need to provide sufficient protection.”

Food shocks can cause small changes in the price of food in the supermarket. According to Gomez, populations below the poverty line are the most impacted by these increases. However, he notes that designing policies that promote supply chain diversity is a major coordination challenge for cities and other actors involved in the food supply chain.

“But cities could also work with government at different levels to increase resilience in the face of disruptions in the food supply chain,” Mejia said. “There are several US government programs related to food – breakfast, lunch, after-school assistance, and nutrition programs. These programs can provide an untapped opportunity to diversify supply chains and build resilience. “

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Other people working on this project include Benjamin L. Ruddell, Director and Professor, School of Informatics, Computing, and Cyber ​​Systems; and Richard R. Rushforth, assistant professor of computer science and cybersystems research, both at Northern Arizona University.

The National Science Foundation supported this work. Additional data visualization for this research and the project that supported it is at fewsion.us/few-view-3/.

Warning: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of any press releases posted on EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information via the EurekAlert system.

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