A lover of fresh lychees and satellite imagery, Meha Jain is the fifth and most recent addition to the University’s Sustainable Food Systems cluster hire. Based at the School of Natural Resources and Environment, her innovative work uses satellite imagery to support smallholder farmers and to understand the decisions they make in the face of climate change and other resource stressors.
Meha Jain | Assistant Professor, School of Natural Resources
In what ways does your work relate to sustainable food systems? My work broadly tries to understand the impacts of environmental change and natural resource degradation on agricultural production and how farmers are responding and adapting to these changes. I seek to find ways to sustainably enhance production and incomes for farmers in smallholder systems that are being impacted by multiple shocks like climate change and natural resource degradation. My goal is to figure out ways to more efficiently use limited natural resources, to increase equity, and to sustain current levels of production.
What is your strongest food memory? I have strong memories of eating fresh lychees and mangos in India as a kid. My family moved from India to Canada, and every five years we would visit extended family and spend the summers in India. My grandfather and uncles are farmers in Northern India in the state of Uttar Pradesh, and I remember walking around the farm picking fresh mango and lychees. After coming back to Canada, I would try to find lychees and mangos in the grocery store and it was just not the same!
How has being a part of the sustainable food systems cluster hire impacted your first year on campus? Both personally and research-wise, it has been great to join an existing community of people who are interested in the same sorts of issues and questions. I’ve coordinated with Andrew Jones (Assistant Professor in the School of Public Health and part of the Sustainable Food Systems cluster hire) to understand factors influencing farmer nutrition in India and with Jennifer Blesh (Assistant Professor in the School of Natural Resources and Environment and also part of the cluster hire) to map changes in agricultural production in the US and link them to environmental impacts.
Tell us about your recent sustainable food system research. My lab takes a mixed methods approach where part of our work uses satellite data to map yield, crop type, and cropped area across large spatial and temporal scales. This is exciting because often times researchers and policymakers rely on coarse data available at the district and state scale. Satellite data allow us to develop the same data products but at a fine spatial scale. For example, my colleagues and I have mapped cropped area at a scale of 1×1 kilometer across India and mapped wheat yield at a scale of 30 meters across Northern India.
To complement the large scale agricultural production patterns from satellite date, my group and I conduct household surveys to understand the factors influencing farmer decisions. Specifically, we examine how farmers are perceiving and adapting to environmental change, like climate change and natural resource degradation.
What are some Ann Arbor, Detroit or University events, projects or organizations that you are excited about? FarmLogs is an innovative startup based in Ann Arbor that uses satellite imaging to improve farmer decision making, primarily on field to enhance agricultural production and yield. This technology assists farmers’ management decisions with information that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to. I think the work they are doing is very exciting and it dovetails into my work in India. Overall, we are both working with farmers to enhance sustainable food systems on the ground.