Tomatoes in the sun.

UC Davis Researchers Using Artificial Intelligence to Address Food Insecurity

There are many ways artificial intelligence makes day-to-day activities more efficient. Now a team of UC Davis researchers is working to find ways that AI technology may improve complex food systems and help communities plan for a more sustainable future.

Patrick Huber, a project scientist with the Food Systems Lab at UC Davis, is among the researchers working to develop an information system to build “smart foodsheds,” a linked network of datasets and people so local communities can track where crops are grown, processed and distributed. Huber says creating AI-enabled cyberinfrastructure could enhance food security in local regions and beyond.

“Smart foodsheds use information technologies to link the many components of a food system, from production in the larger regional landscape, to processing and distribution, to food access and other social justice issues,” Huber said. “They enable a better understanding of how the pieces interact and affect each other.”

Huber and his team are part of a collaborative project with the Intelligent Cyberinfrastructure with Computational Learning in the Environment (ICICLE) led by Ohio State University, which was recently awarded a $20 million, five-year grant by the U.S. National Science Foundation. Part of that grant includes $622,000 for the UC Davis research project on foodsheds.

Huber says part of the project involves working with local food producers, processors and consumers to identify how natural resource components like biodiversity and soil health play a role in regional food systems. Huber says linking that information with existing datasets on food scarcity, access and equity could lead to the development of new, easy-to-use tools that can be used to enhance food security.

“Our collaboration with ICICLE will give us the computational expertise and infrastructure to turn some of these ideas into actual workable tools, thereby providing food system stakeholders with AI applications they can really use,” Huber said. “We want community members to be able to use data and tools to help them answer their important questions without requiring technical expertise that they may not be able to access.”