9 June 2014

A Lancaster academic, who is researching food insecurity in small isolated cities in the Brazilian Amazon, has been recognised as an “outstanding” early career researcher.


“Most climate-change research in the Amazon considers only the environmental perspective”, explains Dr Luke Parry, from the Lancaster Environment Centre, who has been awarded a Future Research Leaders Fellowship from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

“The premise of my research is that there are millions of Amazonians living in cities, and they are very vulnerable to environmental change because of high levels of poverty, combined with climate shocks like drought and floods”

The fellowship provides £300,000 over three years to support Luke's research developing a predictive tool to help identify the Amazonian cities whose inhabitants are at the greatest risk of becoming food insecure during droughts and floods. He is focusing on small Amazon cities which are not connected to the national road network and so can only be reached by boat and air, which makes them particularly vulnerable in times of crisis.

“Brazil has fantastic data sources, including publicly available, free-to-use information on rivers.” Luke says. “By linking river flow data and our knowledge of food distribution and boat navigation with indicators of urban poverty and local food production, we hope to predict where and when city-dwellers may lack access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food.

“This will help crisis management during extreme climatic events, helping the Brazilian government to decide where it should allocate its scarce resources, and also with longer term planning to improve the resilience of the Amazonian food system and the lives of city dwellers.”

The fellowship has already helped bring in funding from Brazil, including from the Science Without Borders scheme which is providing additional money for field work and staff in Brazil.
Luke is also getting help from colleagues in Lancaster University. “Professor Peter Diggle, a world leading statistician who uses health data to predict epidemics, is helping me to learn how to apply his advanced epidemiological modeling techniques to urban food security.”

Luke spent last summer traveling 3000 kilometers by boat visiting some of the most remote cities in preparation for the project. Even under normal river conditions, it can take over a month for food supplies from the Amazonas state capital, Manaus, to reach outlying towns such as Eirunepe.

“I wanted to question my assumptions. I talked to people in the streets and from church groups, as well as local health experts and boat captains. It made me realise that accounting for the impacts of floods as well as droughts is vital because floods can wipe out crops, leading to higher prices for staple food such as toasted manioc flour.”

Luke kicked off his project off by spending the whole of March in Brazil. He is working with a stellar group of Brazilian scientists, who are offering their considerable expertise in hydrology, economics, public policy and statistical modeling to tackle the challenging task of predicting urban food insecurity. The team will be finalising their data collection plans during a meeting in a small riverine city, Novo Airão, in September 2014.