Using Supercomputers to Help Solve World Hunger

By Megan Johnson, NCSA
Apples in crates ready for shipping. Cold storage interior.

Feeding the world is a complex problem. You can’t simply grow more food – many places that need food the most can’t grow it due to living in climates hostile to growing anything, let alone the large-scale agricultural systems required to feed millions of people. Sending non-perishables can only go so far – malnutrition is a constant battle that can truly only be waged by having fresh fruits and vegetables included in the diets of the world population.

Extra food could be grown in more agriculturally friendly climes, and that is what a research team led by Public Health Computational, Informatics, and Operations Research (PHICOR) – at the time, based at the  Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and currently based at City University of New York (CUNY) – set out to study. What if more food was grown in a hospitable climate, on land that could grow extra food specifically for exporting – perhaps in a place like Odisha, a state in India? Could that resolve some of the nutritional needs of neighboring countries?

Utilizing ACCESS resources at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC), The PHICOR team, together with scientists from PSC, developed a bit of software designed to test their theory – if they grow more food in Odisha, could it make it to the countries that needed it before it spoiled? The software is called HERMES. It’s specifically designed to study supply chains. Supply chains are notoriously complex, with variables changing when items move from within countries to outside of them. Determining where a hold-up is in a supply chain would be society-changing for many countries that struggle to get supplies where they’re needed.

[When] people aren’t eating as many vegetables as we want them to, it seems like we should produce more vegetables. But if we increase vegetable production without paying attention to supply chains, we risk this situation where the money we spend on crop productivity may literally go to waste if the food ultimately does not reach people.

—Marie Spiker, Bloomberg School of Public Health

HERMES has proven to be adaptable and has so far been tested on medical supply chains and now, food supply chains. This fascinating use of HPC resources to solve a real-world problem showcases the versatility of cyberinfrastructure. Researchers have shown they can use supercomputers to help study the stars, the atoms that make up life and even the way food makes it to our plates.

To find out how researchers have used HERMES and HPC to help solve world hunger, read the original story here: Increasing Vegetable Crops Won’t Ease Hunger if Supply Chains Don’t Keep Pace

Project Details

Resource Provider Institution(s): Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC)
Affiliations: Public Health Computational, Informatics, and Operations Research (PHICOR),  Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, City University of New York (CUNY)
Funding Agency: NSF, Global Obesity Prevention Center, PHICOR, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation via grant number OPP1139051, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) via grant U01HD086861 and 5R01HD086013-02, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Common Fund and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) of the NIH via grant U54TR004279.
Grant or Allocation Number(s): CDA190004

The science story featured here was enabled by the ACCESS program, which is supported by National Science Foundation grants #2138259, #2138286, #2138307, #2137603, and #2138296.

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