Meet affiliated faculty Arianne Cease

Arianne Cease holding a locust in her hand in a field of grass

The Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems focuses on innovative ideas and solutions to the many challenges of current food systems. In this series, we’re sitting down with the Swette Center affiliated faculty to catch up on food systems, innovation, and what makes a good meal. Read the rest of the series here. 

Arianne Cease, Senior Sustainability Scientist, Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation; Associate Professor, School of Sustainability, College of Global Futures; Affiliate Faculty, School of Life Sciences; Director, Global Locust Initiative, Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation

How did you get interested in food systems issues?

I grew up in a rural farming community where I was exposed to the food system at its source early on. As time went on, I wanted to understand how other agricultural communities lived. I had the opportunity to join the Peace Corps and I ended up in Senegal, living and working with farming communities as a sustainable agroforestry extension agent. I worked with communities to implement tree technologies such as windbreaks and living fences. I also did work planting fruit trees and other edible trees.   

Share a glimpse of your current research and how it applies to food systems transformation. 

During the Peace Corps, I happened to arrive at the end of a major locust outbreak which was followed by another outbreak of grasshoppers. I got to see first hand the impact that pests can have on agriculture and food security, especially in subsistence farming communities. I went to study the biology of locusts to understand what triggers outbreaks and ultimately learn how to manage them to improve food security and livelihoods. We quickly learned that they are part of a larger socio-ecological-technological system. Our research based in China showed that locusts were outbreaking in areas that were heavily grazed by livestock and contained plants that had a low protein and high carbohydrate content. Basically, we found that degraded areas harbored plants with low protein/high carbohydrate contents which is favorable for locusts. In contrast to the idea that herbivores are limited by protein, locusts are particularly hungry for carbohydrates so access to these degraded fields allows them to travel long distances. That information gave us another tool and means that agricultural communities can shape the probability of a locust outbreak through sustainable land management. We have an ongoing community-based project in West Africa that is implementing that finding. 

What’s an innovation in the food systems world that you’re excited about? 

I’m most excited about progress toward farmer and stakeholder driven research, and community based programs. Much research for improving agricultural systems happens in laboratories and in isolation from agricultural communities. Then when you get new technology to the field it sometimes doesn’t make any cultural sense to implement it. It is exciting to see a more systems-based approach that involves stakeholders from the very beginning and integrates traditional ecological knowledge and western science for co-production of knowledge and advancements. People that have been working on the land for many generations have incredible insights. Working together across boundaries, cultures, sectors, and disciplines is really our most powerful tool for advancing innovation in food systems.

What’s your go-to weeknight meal? 

I’m a huge fan of pasta.