Food security

Skylar Kylstra

“Hunger, poverty, climate change — all of these large problems are interconnected. Everything is a system that affects the other. You have to tackle them in a lot of different ways, and all of these problems will get solved together.”

Skylar Kylstra is a big believer in an interdisciplinary approach to problem-solving. Having graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Global Resource Systems at UBC, she’s now pursuing a Master of Land and Water Systems.

“My interest is the intersection of climate change and food security,” she explains. “Agriculture has one of the largest impacts on the earth. We need to figure out how to feed more people while not converting more land to agriculture, and how to make agriculture work for the environment.”

Skylar Kylstra

The world’s population will increase to nine billion by 2050. In order to eliminate hunger, agricultural production will have to increase by 50 per cent by 2050

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Skylar Kylstra

Globally, more than 820 million people remain chronically undernourished

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Skylar Kylstra

Sustainable agricultural development is important for many reasons, including solving climate change, addressing water scarcity and contributing to political stability

How is climate change affecting food production?

I studied this when I did an independent research project on food security and rice in Southeast Asia. There, most of the rice is produced in the Mekong Delta. That area is projected to see increases in monsoons, which can wipe out rice production. Rising sea levels will increase the level of salt in the soil, which will make the conditions for growing rice less productive. There are also going to be droughts, and if you don’t have water you can’t grow food. So food is going to be one of the most important things affected by climate change that will impact people.

Why do you think an interdisciplinary approach will help solve these problems?

You have to be able to understand the different drivers of a problem. The problem won’t be solved just by science — which is obviously a huge part of it — you have to understand people. How will people respond to different changes and governments?

There are lots of different disciplines that will be important in creating solutions for climate change. Engineering, for example, matters for creating new technology. Art could be crucial in appealing to people’s emotions and changing how they feel about the environment. Climate art can get people thinking more deeply about climate change.

The interdisciplinary aspect of my Global Resource Systems program was key in shaping my perspective. The courses I took spanned science, geography, environmental impact assessment, sustainable development engineering and more.

How optimistic are you that we can responsibly grow enough food?

I am fully confident that we have all the information we need to change how we produce food and adapt to the effects of climate change. That’s why I’ve become interested in environmental policy — if we have the science and evidence to solve problems, then it’s about applying that knowledge to real-world situations.

How do you personally want to help shape change?

At this point, I’m torn between being a scientist or doing environmental law and policy. I could create a policy that allows our society to better adapt to climate change. Or as a scientist, I could do research that informs that policy. Whichever direction I decide to go, the science master’s program will help me.

How has UBC supported you in your work?

Last year, I had an opportunity through UBC to go, fully funded, to a United Nations conference on sustainable development. This experience opened my eyes to pursuing policy as a career path.

I learned about the conference through my undergraduate program resource advisor, who emailed us every day with work or volunteer opportunities. I’ve also worked at UBC Farm, helped out at the orchard garden, and participated in an interdisciplinary engineering design team called Sustaingineering.

I’ve also found the professors in the Faculty of Land and Food Systems to be really accessible, especially since it’s a small faculty. If you’re interested in someone’s research, you can talk to them about it and they’ll tell you how to get involved. There are so many opportunities, not just through classes, to help make a difference in the community.

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