UTSA researcher awarded NSF grant to help increase Africa food security

Eric Jing Du

UTSA Assistant Professor Eric Jing Du

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(Aug. 5, 2014) -- Eric Jing Du, assistant professor in the UTSA College of Architecture, has been awarded major funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Interdisciplinary Behavioral and Social Science (IBSS) research program 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. The project, "Participatory Ensemble Modeling to Study the Multiscale Social and Behavioral Dynamics of Food Security in Dryland West Africa," 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 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 factors that contribute to the region's ongoing food security concerns. The team also will meet with policymakers in the region and conduct 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 recently received a research grant from Zachry Industrial Inc. to study human behavior and risk assessment on multi-billion dollar projects.

Du's co-principal investigators on this project include Arika Ligmann-Zielinska, a geography expert; Laura Schmitt Olabisi, a community sustainability expert; and Sandy Marquart-Pyatt, a sociology expert, all from Michigan State University, and Louie Rivers III, an expert in forestry and environmental resources studying judgement and decision making from North Carolina State University.

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For more information, visit the UTSA Department of Construction Science website or the UTSA College of Architecture website.

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