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UTSA researcher awarded NSF grant to create computer models for food insecurity project

SAN ANTONIO August 6, 2014 Eric Jing Du, assistant professor of Construction Science in The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) College of Architecture, has been awarded major funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Interdisciplinary Behavioral and Social Science Research Program (IBSS) to complete a four-year research project about food security issues in West Africa using real-time simulation computer models.

Du's funding is part of a larger interdisciplinary project on which he is a co-principal investigator, "Participatory Ensemble Modeling to Study the Multiscale Social and Behavioral Dynamics of Food Security in Dryland West Africa," that includes researchers from two other universities. The collaborators received a cumulative $1 million grant from the NSF.

According to a 2013 report by global risk analysis firm Maplecroft, 75 percent of the countries in Africa are considered either at a 'high' or 'extreme' risk for food insecurity. Many populations in the area do not have easy or sustainable access to food. In light of this, the researchers will attempt to explain the region's food insecurity and provide tools for long-term policy-making for improved food availability, access and stability.

Du will partner with researchers from Michigan State University (MSU) and North Carolina State University to develop and test a suite of simulation models for long-term policies related to food security in the region. This research will focus on a region that includes Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Nigeria.

The project will examine and attempt to predict the different factors that contribute to the region's ongoing food security concerns. The team will also meet with policymakers in the region and hold public seminars to gain insight into the lives of the people in the area.

The researchers will produce computer models to test for a variety of factors including human behavior and migration, climate change and local policy already in place. Du will apply models to predict human behavior in different scenarios relating to the food security issue.

"The region's general food insecurity is a complex, multi-faceted issue. The interdisciplinary aspect of this project allows our team a unique opportunity to examine the issue at its many roots," said Du. "The four year project is about finding the best way to use technology to produce a sustainable outcome for the many stakeholders in the region which we are studying."

Du is a construction engineering and management expert with a combined 10 years of experience in civil engineering and construction management. His research specialties include human behaviors in engineering organizations, risk management and computer simulation. He also recently received a research grant from Zachry Industrial, Inc. to study human behavior and risk assessment on multi-billion dollar projects.


Contact: Jesus Chavez
University of Texas at San Antonio

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