Evan Fraser

PhD, University of British Columbia, 2002
Professor; Tier I Canada Research Chair in Global Food Security

Office: Hutt 123
Tel:519-824-4120 ext. 53011
Website: Feeding Nine Billion;
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Food security under economic globalization and climate change; land use change;  integrated socio-economic / crop / climate modelling ; farmer behaviour. 


Evan stared thinking about agriculture and food systems while spending summers working on his grandfather’s fruit farm in Niagara.  There, he watched his stock-broker grandmother rake in an unconscionable amount of money on commissions from her clients’ investments while the farmers around were letting their crops rot because the cost of harvesting was higher than the cost of importing from the Southern US and Mexico. He decided, however, it was easier to write and talk about farming than actually try to make a living on it so passed on inheriting the family farm, opting instead for grad school.  He did degrees in forestry, anthropology and agriculture at UBC and UofT.  Since graduating, he worked in a policy institute with the Hon. Dr. Lloyd Axworthy, and began his academic career in 2003 in the UK where he worked on farming and climate change at the University of Leeds.   He is the author of approximately 70 scientific papers or book chapters on these topics, has written for the Guardian.com, CNN.com, ForeignAffairs.com, the Walrus and the Ottawa Citizen, and has two popular non-fiction books about food and food security including:  Empires of Food: Feast, Famine and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations that was published by Simon and Schuster and shortlisted for the James Beard Food Literature Award.  Currently, he holds the Tier I Canada Research Chair in Global Food Security and is a fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society.

Research Interests and Areas of Expertise

Over the next two generations, the globe faces an enormous human security challenge.  We must adapt to rapid economic and climate change by creating a food system that provides adequate and appropriate nutrition for 9 billion people in a way that does not compromise vital ecosystem services including biodiversity conservation and carbon sequestration.  Within the broad area of “global food security in the 21st century,” Evan has spent his professional life developing an externally funded multi-disciplinary research programme on the links between food security, landuse, and global environmental/economic change.

In this, he has five distinct strands to his work.

What can we learn from past food security crises in order to understand where we might be vulnerable today?

I have used historic cases to combine work from a number of disciplines (including comparative history, development studies, landscape ecology, ecological economics, and political science) to identify food systems “vulnerable” to environmental change and published comparative work where relatively minor weather anomalies sparked major food-crises as a way of understanding how our own society may respond to similar shocks.  In particular, I have explored the Irish Potato Famine, the “Great Famines” of the early 1300s, and the Ethiopian famine of the early 1980s. 

What are the socio-economic forces that shape our food-producing landscapes today?

In my opinion, we have adequate scientific knowledge to sustainably produce food in many parts of the world.  However, farmers are not always able to use this knowledge.   Therefore, I am interested in understanding the socio-economic factors that shape farmer decisions.  This had led me to conduct empirical work (usually involving interviews, questionnaires or focus groups discussions) in a range of settings including:  urban Thailand, rural Belize, and rural British Columbia.  I have also supervised graduate students or post-doctoral researchers to do similar work in: the uplands of the UK, rural and urban Malawi, rural Ghana, and peri-urban Bangladesh.


What are the implications of different types of landscapes for both food security and other ecosystem services?

Different landscapes provide different things: some provide low-cost food; some provide habitat conservation; others provide carbons sequestration; still others are resilient to climate change.  I am interested in conducting research that explores the synergies and tradeoffs implied by different types of landscape.  This work has been based on extensive collaboration with natural and social science colleagues and involved working on a range of topics in different ecological settings including: the contribution of the uplands of the UK to a range of ecosystem services, on land management in general and on the relation between crops and climate. My current work in this area is to explore trade offs between food, fibre and fuel production in different parts of the world.   


What regions of the world are likely to be vulnerable in terms of food insecurity in the 21st century?

Current crop-climate models used to project future food insecurity only capture the relationships between different types of crop and the climate and do not include how farmers may adapt to environmental or social change.  However, farmer behaviour may either amplify or reduce the impact that climate change has on food productivity.  As such, I have been working with large interdisciplinary teams to formally combine an understanding of farmer decision making with crop-climate models.  In one recent analysis we explored the sensitivity of Chinese rice, wheat and maize harvests to drought and in another collected data at the farm scale in a number of African settings to use as a way of better understanding crop-climate model results. We have also worked at the global scale to understand what socio-economic, governance and geographic factors make food production vulnerable to drought. 


I am involved in a partnership with American journalist Andrew Rimas. Together, we have co-authored two non-academic books on food, sustainability and global environmental change. The first, titled Beef: the Untold Story of how Milk, Muscle and Meat Shaped the World, (William Morrow, 2008) is an exploration of the evolution of western diets through time focusing on meat and dairy. The second book is called Empires of Food: Feast, Famine and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations (to be published in the summer of 2010 in North America by The Free Press and in the UK by Random Books) and is an examination of the history of global food production and shows how large scale food systems tend to decline during periods of climate change.


Details on my-nonacademic writing.

A Couple of Op-eds

CNN Editorial: Are more food protests around the corner? http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2014/03/13/are-more-food-protests-around-the-corner/
Guardian Editorial: 10 things you need to know about the global food system: http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/food-blog/10-things-need-to-know-global-food-system?commentpage=1#start-of-comments

Sample Videos: The links between climate change and food security: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYq2elstFWQ

Selected Recent Publications (2011-13)

(bolded authors were graduate students or post-docs working under my supervision at the time of writing)

Mount, P., Hazen, S., Holmes, S., Fraser, E.D.G., Winson, T., Knezevic, I., Nelson, L., Ohberg, L., Sinclair-Waters, B., Andree, P., Ballamingie, P., Blay-Palmer, A., Landman, K., Wakefield, S. (2013).  Barriers to the local food movement:  Ontario community food projects and the capacity for convergence.  Local Environments.  18(5): 592-605.

Fraser, E.D.G. (2013). Drawing lessons from the American Dust Bowl for dealing with today’s food crisis: the narratives of high tech farming, local food systems, food aid, and strict environmental regulation. Global Environmental Change.23(6): 1662-1672.

Scannell, L., Legwego, A., Fraser, E.D.G., (2013).  Food Riots: Media perspectives on the causes of food protests in Africa.  Food Security. 5: 485-477.

Reed M.S., Bonn A., Broad K., Burgess P., Fazey I.R., Fraser E.D.G., Hubacek K., Nainggolan D., Roberts P., Quinn C.H., Stringer L.C., Thorpe S., Walton D.D., Ravera F., Redpath S. (2013) Participatory scenario development for environmental management: a methodological framework, Journal of Environmental Management. 128: 345-362.

Antwi-Agyei, P., Dougill, A., Fraser, E.D.G., Stringer, L., Fraser, E.D.G. (2013) Characterising the nature of vulnerability to climate variability: empirical evidence from two regions in Ghana. Environment, Development and Sustainability. 15 (4): 903-926.

Simelton, E., Quinn, C., Batisani, N., Dougill, A., Dyer, J., Fraser, E.D.G., Rosell, S., Sallu, S., Stringer, L., (2013). African farmers’ perceptions of erratic rainfall.  Climate and Development. dx.doi.org/10.1080/17565529.2012.751893

Abson, D., Fraser, E.D.G., Benton, T. (2013).  Landscape diversity and the resilience of agricultural incomes: a portfolio analysis of land use patterns and economic returns from lowland agriculture.  Agriculture and Food Security. 2(2): www.agricultureandfoodsecurity.com/content/2/1/2

Fraser, E.D.G., Simelton, E. Termansen, M., Gossling, S., South, A. (2013).  Vulnerability Hotspots:  Integrating socio-economic and hydrological models to identify where cereal production may decline in the future due to climate change induced drought.  Agriculture and Forest Meteorology.  170: 195-205.

Reed, M., Hubacek, K., Bonn, A., Burt, T., Holden, J., Stringer, L., Beharry-Borg, N., Buckmaster, S., Chapman, D., Chapman, P., Clay, G., Cornell, S., Dougill, A., Evely, A., Fraser, E.D.G., Jin, N., Irvine, B., Kirkby, M., Kunin, W., Prell, C., Quinn, C., Slee, B., Stagl, S. Termansen, M., Thorp, S., Worrall, F. (2013).  Anticipating and managing future trade-offs and complementarities between ecosystem services, Ecology and Society. 18(1): 5 

Antwi-Agyei, P., Fraser, E.D.G., Dougill, A., Stringer, L., and Simelton, E. (2012).  Mapping the vulnerability of crop production to drought in Ghana using rainfall, yield and socioeconomic data.  Applied Geography. 32(2): 324-334.

Simelton, E., Fraser, E.D.G., Termansen, M., Benton, T., Gosling, S., South, A., Arnell, N., Challinor, A., Dougill, A., Forster, P. (2012). The socioeconomics of food crop production and climate change vulnerability: A global scale quantitative analysis of how grain crops are sensitive to drought.  Food Security. 4: 163-179.

Benton, T., Dougill, A., Fraser, E.D.G. Howlett, D. (2011) The scale for managing production vs. the scale for managing ecosystem service production, World Agriculture. 2(1): 14-21. 

Fraser, E.D.G. (2011) Can economic, land use and climatic stresses lead to famine, disease, warfare and death? Using Europe's calamitous 14th century as a parable for the modern age.  Ecological Economics. 70(7): 1269-1279. 
Fraser, E.D.G. Termansen, M., Hubacek, K., Dougill, A., Quinn, C., Sendzimir, J. (2011) Assessing vulnerability, resilience and adaptive capacity to climate change in arid/semi-arid social ecological systems.  Ecology and Society.  16(3): 3 [online] URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol16/iss3/art3/

Máñez, M., Costa, E., Fraser, E.D.G. (2011).  Socioeconomics, policy, or climate change: What is driving vulnerability in Southern Portugal? Ecology and Society. 16(1): 28.

Mkwambisi, D., Fraser, E.D.G. & Dougill, A. (2011) Urban agriculture and poverty reduction: Evaluating how food production in cities contributes to food security, employment and income in Malawi. Journal of International Development. 23(2):  181-203. 

Paavola, J., and Fraser, E.D.G. (2011) Ecological economics and environmental history.  Ecological Economics. 70(7): 1266-1268. 

Twyman, C., Fraser, E.D.G., Stringer, L., Quinn, C., Dougill, A., Ravera, F., Crane, T., Sallu, S., (2011).  Climate science, development practice, and policy interactions in dryland agroecological systems. Ecology and Society.  16(3): 14.

Popular Writing

Empires of Food

The Walrus "How to Feed Nine Billion",

CNN Blog

Graduate Students Supervised (since 2010)
Program Year Student Title
Masters   Armitage, Tom Identifying market barriers to midsized farms in Ontario.
Masters   Bond, Natachia Food security and climate change in Cambodia.
Masters   Hodgins, Kelly Food hubs as components of sustainable food systems.
Masters   Johnson, Rylea Food systems and food security; evaluating the potential food produce auctions to operate as a key alternative food system.
Doctoral   McInnes, Ashley Pathways to sustainable food systems.
Doctoral   Ohberg, Lisa Role of food systems localization in community food security.
Doctoral   Rotz, Sarah Farmer adaptability and climate change.
Doctoral   Scannell, Lauren Global agri-food; globalization; power; international development; food security; food sovereignty; regional food systems; wild food products; food from the forest; food traditions; dietary and bio diversity
Doctoral   Sethuratnam, Sri Scaling up local food initiatives in Southern Ontario.
Doctoral   Vansteenkiste, Jennifer Global food systems; food security; international development interventions; local alternative food systems; gender; Haiti.
Doctoral 2014 Suckall, Natalie The effect of climate change on urban migration in Malawi.
Doctoral 2013 Antwi-Agyei, Philip The vulnerability of small holder farmers to climate change in Ghana
Doctoral 2013 Khandakar, Munim The effect of salinity intrusion on food security in Bangladesh.
Masters 2013 CoDyre, Michael The Potential of urban agriculture in Guelph.
Masters 2012 Hazen, Shelly The effect of globalization on farm sustainability.
Doctoral 2011 Atibila, John Wetland livelihoods and vulnerability