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The importance of soil moisture and climate variability on child malnutrition

The Digital Tools, Geospatial and Farming Systems Consortium (DGFSC), funded by Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sustainable Intensification (SIIL), is leading a project in Senegal, Bangladesh, and Cambodia to study the effect of the temporal and spatial dimensions of soil moisture and climate variability on acute and chronic child malnutrition.

Within this framework, Ruthie Burrows, a Ph.D. student in Geography at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, focused on spatial analysis, food security, and climate change, is interested in populations who rely on systems that are vulnerable to climate change located in regions that experience climate hazards.

The aim of the project is to integrate soil moisture, temperature, and precipitation with acute and chronic child malnutrition measures to explore how climate is related to food insecurity in Senegal, Bangladesh, and Cambodia.

To conduct this project, she uses data on child malnutrition from the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) for Senegal, Cambodia, and Bangladesh. This is a highly detailed population dataset containing individual child anthropometric data on wasting, an indicator of short-term undernutrition and stunting, and long-term undernutrition.

The DHS, a nationally representative survey, is collected in clusters that are spatially referenced to a coordinate. The researchers summarize soil moisture, precipitation, and temperature within 10 km and 20 km buffers of these coordinates to connect population data with climate data. One of their discoveries is that acute undernutrition is often more difficult to model since it is not as prevalent in anthropometric datasets.

Ruthie explained, "when we look at the soil moisture dataset, there is an incredible variability, we have some limitations when we are looking at human data and trying to connect it with climate data." This is because "not all climate datasets go back in years that we need or they don't have the spatial resolution that we are looking for this project."

According to Ruthie, it is important to anticipate these climate and agriculture changes, knowing when and where these impacts may happen in terms of interventions and policy. Exploring different scenarios of precipitation, temperatures, and soil moisture will allow helping the population to make clever decisions in agriculture production and improving their quality of life.

To conclude, Ruthie enjoys working on the DGFSC project. She highlighted, "I am just really excited to work with partners across the world. It is my third year of a Ph.D., and I have been missing a lot due to COVID-19, especially being able to travel and understand what people want and how they live. I just became aware of the agency that humans have and how we as researchers characterize that in our projects, that is something I have learned a lot from, and I have been appreciative of that."


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