ESPE Department hosts seminar on rice farming in South Asia

Ishita Khambete, Contributing Writer

This winter, the Environmental Science, Policy, and Engineering (ESPE) department hosted the second installment of its annual winter seminar series on February 15, titled “Feeding the World”. This seminar series focuses on the relationship between agriculture and the people of the world. The session was hosted by Dr. Sonali Shukla McDermid, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at New York University. Her research focuses on mitigating and adapting to the impacts of agriculture on the climate, as well as evaluating the interactions between soil, crops, and water in agriculture. Her primary research sites are in South and Southeast Asia, using rice as the main crop of focus. McDermid’s research also has multiple focal points in the sense that there are a lot of considerations to make in terms of the relationship between water usage, carbon fixation, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. She uses different types of modeling to help visualize these relationships and how they can be used to improve land management strategies.

McDermid also emphasized the importance of rice in Asian cuisine, more specifically how about three billion people have rice in their diets. This stresses the importance of rice farming, but also raises the question of how rice farming can be more sustainable while still feeding everyone that it does. McDermid also talked about how countries like Peru wanted to adopt the farming technique being researched by her team. This farming technique is known as Alternate Wetting Drying, or AWD. She raised the concern that if countries like Peru were to adopt AWD, then they would have to very closely manage water usage and release of GHGs, since the climates in South America as well as South and Southeast Asia are very different.

Ultimately, McDermid’s research on climate impact caused by agriculture affects the rest of the world since it affects the way rice farming is conducted, especially since rice farming is very freshwater intensive. It’ll also affect the level of GHGs released into the atmosphere, and that contributes to climate change, which affects every region of the world.

Christine Swanson ‘23 is a current senior attending ENS 460: Senior Capstone in Environmental Studies, the course surrounding the ESPE seminar series. In response to the talk, she said, “The talk by Dr. McDermid was very engaging; I learned about the importance of considering the impacts of climate change on agriculture, specifically with respect to the implications on mitigation and adaptation efforts. I was especially intrigued to learn about the modeling component of Dr. McDermid’s work and how this framework can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of alternative management strategies, such as in rice systems in South and Southeast Asia.”

The ESPE department will hold the final installment of their winter speaker series featuring Dr. Aubrey Streit Krug, Director of Ecosphere Studies at the Land Institute on Wednesday February 22 at 6:00 PM in the Nott Memorial.