We Must Help Farmers Prepare for a Transformed Climate. This Scientist is Showing Us How.

A Q&A on food justice and security with Sonali McDermid, PhD

Yasmin Tayag
Future Human
Published in
9 min readApr 6, 2021

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A farmer harvests wheat crop in a field on the outskirts of Faridabad, India on April 4, 2021. Photo: MONEY SHARMA/AFP/Getty Images

Before she started thinking about the future of food, climate scientist Sonali McDermid, PhD, studied the ancient past. Specifically, the Pleistocene era, a period 3 million years ago when warming global temperatures changed the Earth’s climate. For McDermid, it was impossible not to draw comparisons to the present — and think about the billions of people who would be affected by such a shift today.

Meanwhile, she was also thinking about food: where it comes from, who gets to eat it, and what will happen to it as the climate changes. She fused these interests over time, and now she’s an assistant professor of environmental studies at New York University, where she studies the role of agriculture in climate change. Much of her work is aimed at helping small farmers in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa prepare for a much warmer future.

Food justice, for McDermid, is a critical aspect of this research, an aspect that stemmed from her work in India, where her family is from. “When you look at how much we’re producing and, in some ways, how food-rich India is, and the fact that there are so many people who don’t have access all the time, the…

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Yasmin Tayag
Future Human

Editor, Medium Coronavirus Blog. Senior editor at Future Human by OneZero. Previously: science at Inverse, genetics at NYU.