Symposium on Stressors and Drivers of Food Security: Evidence from Scientific Collections

Scientific Collections International: Food Security Research Initiative
Symposium Prospectus, 1st mailing 
National Agriculture Library, Beltsville, MD: 18-20 May 2016

Like war and disease, food security has been a dominant factor in human history. Food security has fueled rapid growth in population size and its insecurity has led to the collapse of societies and mass migrations. Fluctuations in food security have been felt on many different timescales from short-lived famine to prolonged declines in staple crops, livestock and wild prey. As our population has grown, we have consumed wild species, selected and cultivated them as dietary staples, altered them through selective breeding, and mitigated against fluctuations in their supply with agricultural advances.

Scientific collections in a variety of disciplines may contain overlooked evidence that could prove valuable to researchers involved in food security. As we learn more about the origins and characteristics of the species we select as food sources, the ways we have and can modify them to meet our needs, and the histories and causes of their changing abundance, we become better able to predict and protect our future food supply.

Symposium Goals: Begin a process to determine how scientific collections in different disciplines provide us with the results of natural experiments in history, thereby enhancing our understanding of:

  • How humans select and develop food species,
  • The current and anticipated threats and stressors to those food supplies, and
  • Potential new strategies for addressing anticipated and unanticipated threats, stressors, and new applications for food species and food security.

Discussion Framework: In convening this and other research symposia, SciColl seeks to engage diverse types of scientific collections that can shed light on interdisciplinary challenges. For Food Security, SciColl will invite representatives from anthropology, archaeology, earth sciences, biodiversity, ethnobiology, agriculture and livestock research, and other fields to participate. Discussions will focus on the questions above and how they have affected food security over the following intervals of human history:

  • The Agricultural Revolution, including the rise of crop cultivation, the importance of agriculture, the impact of climate variation and other stressors on the success of early cultivation;
  • The Industrial Revolution, including increased demand for food following rapid growth of urban populations, mechanization of agriculture and introduction of novel crop species from the New World;
  • The Green Revolution, including demand for sustainability practices, accelerating demand for increased food supply (measured by volume and nutritional value), and strategies for mitigating the effects of climate change and stressors (such as drought, pests, loss of pollinators, etc.); and,
  • The Molecular Revolution, including the expansion of custom-bred genetically engineered varieties, the impact of big data, and expansion of molecular and other technology for identifying and controlling invasives, pests, pathogens and other unanticipated threats/stressors and uses.


Preliminary Agenda

Day 1: Wednesday, 18 May 2016

12:00 - Registration

13:00 - Welcome and USDA perspective: Ann Bartuska, Deputy Under Secretary, USDA

13:30 - Session 1. Keynotes with SciColl introduction: David Schindel

Vera Lucia Imperatriz-Fonseca, Univ. Sao Paolo: Pollination, Pollinators and Food Production: The IPBES Assessment of a Critical Food Security Driver (45 min)

Gary Nabhan, Univ. Arizona: Climate, Water, and other Stressors: The Nutritional Cliff as seen from the American Southwest (45 min)

15:30 - Coffee Break

16:00 - Session 2. Three moderated panel discussions about the type and quality of evidence provided by collections and their associated databases:

  • Varieties of Food – wild, domesticated and cultivated
  • Environmental Threats – past, present and future
  • Agricultural Stressors – predators, pests and pathogens

17:30 - Adjourn

18:00 - Welcome Reception


Day 2

Sessions 3-6 will be devoted to brief overview presentations, followed by commentaries and discussion by panelists representing different collection domains. The focus will be on how different collection types could contribute to research, including new types of collections and new analytical technologies, and any obstacles preventing research impact. For each of these periods, the questions presented in the discussion framework (page 1) will be addressed.

8:30 - Registration and Pastries

9:00 - Session 3: The Agricultural Revolution. Early selection of crop and livestock species and the rise of agriculture, historic stressors and their impact on food security

10:30 - Coffee Break

11:00 - Session 4: The Industrial Revolution. Population explosion, urbanization, the growth of mechanized industrial farming, the introduction of foreign crops, livestock, and biological stressors and the climate/environmental context

12:30 - Lunch

13:30 - Session 5: The Green Revolution. Sustainability, biodiversity, environmental interactions and dependability, and current stressors and variables

15:00 - Coffee Break

15:30 - Session 6: The Molecular Revolution. Transition from traditional to high-tech breeding techniques and genetic engineering, big data, and the application of molecular and other technological advances to biosecurity, climate change and other stressors

17:00 - Adjourn


Day 3

8:30 - Registration and Pastries

9:00 - Session 7. Break-out discussions with facilitators and rapporteurs

Participants will separate into three break-out groups according to their Collection Domains (see Annex 1) to discuss new strategies for increasing the use and impact that their collections and associated databases can have for food security research. For example, new strategies could involve new approaches to:

  • Sampling and sample preservation;
  • Information capture and databasing;
  • Data dissemination and connectivity with other data resources; and
  • Involvement in interdisciplinary research initiatives.

10:30 - Coffee Break

11:00 - Discussion & Next Steps: This final moderated discussion will summarize:

A. Findings: What have we learned about collections and their potential use and impact on food security research?

B. Recommendations: What new capabilities, best practices and collaborations should be set as new goals for collections and researchers?

C. Action Items: What should we do in the near-term, mid-term, and long-term to pursue these goals?

12:30 - Adjourn

14:00 - Optional Collections Tours
US National Aphid Collection & US National Mites Collection
NAL Library and Special Collections