Climate Change, Technology, and a Vulnerable Food Supply

| Josh Henretig

We all know that food is one of the basic elements of survival. And yet the world is transitioning from an era of food abundance to one of scarcity, driven in part by population growth and rising affluence, as well as growing water shortages and the earth’s rising temperature. In response to this concern, Microsoft and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have teamed up to address Food Resilience, one of the themes of the White House’s Climate Data Initiative.

0647_kenya-12102010-055-1Climate change has the potential to impact all aspects of the food system, from our ability to grow food, to the reliability of food transportation and food safety, to the dynamics of international trade in agricultural goods. The Food Resilience theme is organizing datasets and tools that tell the story of food system vulnerability to climate change both domestically and abroad, focusing on climate-vulnerable links in the chain.

At Microsoft, we believe that climate change is a serious issue that demands immediate, worldwide attention. We are dedicated to reducing our impact on the environment, and are doing so through organizational commitments like carbon neutrality, and through public-private partnerships like the Climate Data Initiative. Many of farming’s most essential questions, such as how to increase yields, how much input is required to produce a healthy crop, and how to adapt to weather conditions, can be answered via information technology. These investments can increase yield, increase input efficiency, and, most importantly for farmers, increase profitability.

As a result of the Climate Data Initiative, a huge amount of data, which lives on’s Climate website, has already been amassed. Now we face the challenge of how best to analyze these enormous information sets and share meaningful insights. On July 29, the White House announced public and private partnerships and commitments to provide support in tackling this challenge. Microsoft’s partnership with the USDA will focus on organizing data sets and tools in the cloud to provide insight into vulnerabilities in the food system. The USDA has posted its data on Microsoft Azure to make it easy for agricultural researchers to explore, analyze, and share insights to address climate-change concerns and help young farmers and producers improve the food system. Those data and tools are provided by Microsoft Research in the Microsoft Azure Marketplace as part of the Microsoft Azure for Research program.

To find out more about how Microsoft is working with the USDA to support the Climate Data Initiative, check out the Inside Microsoft Research and Microsoft Research Connections blog. And while you’re at it, also check out the USDA data sets posted to the Microsoft Azure Marketplace (enter search term USDA)

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