variety of vegetables at the grocery store

Predicting the effect of climate extremes on the food system to improve resilience of global and local food security


The number of food insecure people around the world is staggering: 2.4 billion people in 2020, an increase of 320 million since 2019 (UN, 2022). This year, a deadly combination of climate shocks, conflict, and the pandemic have pushed 50 million people to the edge of famine (WFP, 2022), highlighting the vulnerability of our global food system. Shocks to the food system are not isolated, and can cascade. For example, climate shocks are often correlated, simultaneously hitting production areas around the world and resulting in food price hikes that can lead some countries to impose export bans, driving global prices even higher. Fortunately, correlated climate shocks are increasingly predictable. Our ability to forecast extreme heat, drought, and heavy rains associated with sea surface temperatures has increased dramatically over the past two decades, affording us the potential to help farmers, ranchers, and governments undertake risk-mitigating measures before the weather events hit. Understanding the vulnerability of the global food system to predictable climate shocks is critical to allowing government agencies and aid groups to mitigate food crises and help communities build resiliency.


The aim of our research is twofold. First, we are creating predictive models that account for  interlinkages across food security drivers. This requires a multidisciplinary convergence science  approach, bringing together climatologists, hydrologists, sociologists, agricultural economists,  statisticians, and policy experts to appropriately model correlated shocks and their connections through the food system. Second, to produce an actionable output, these models need to be co-developed with stakeholders from the outset. Stakeholders will guide model inputs, objectives, and scenarios, and help design their output. We are working with decision-makers to co-produce models of the effects of climate shocks on local and global food production, trade, and prices, and enumerate the vulnerability of the households and regions to these shocks. By bringing together academics with consequential real-world decision-makers working on both international and domestic food security, this project will help identify drivers of hunger that are relevant in different settings within developing and developed countries.


Our research team spans disciplines including climate science, agricultural economics,  engineering, geography, hydrology, sociology and statistics. The team is led by Kathy Baylis (Professor & Vice Chair Geography, UCSB) and supported by a Co-PIs Kelly Caylor (Professor & Director of Earth Research Institute, UCSB), Chris Funk (Director of Climate Hazards Center, UCSB), Michael Hayes (Professor, School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska), and Erin Lentz (Associate Professor, LBJ School of Public Policy, University of Texas). 

Our co-production partners include key stakeholders in both the United States and in Kenya. Our US based stakeholders include the Houston Food Bank, Group on Earth Observations Global Agricultural Monitoring Initiative (GeoGlam), and the FEWS NET. Our Kenya-based stakeholders include the FAO and International Livestock Research Institute (IRLI).

This work is funded by The National Science Foundation’s Convergence Accelerator.