Home New mexico state NMSU researchers explore food insecurity amid COVID-19

NMSU researchers explore food insecurity amid COVID-19


LAS CRUCES — It’s been two years since the coronavirus pandemic swept through and changed millions of lives across the country. For many people, one of the most impactful effects is the lack of reliable daily access to food. A group of researchers from New Mexico State University have teamed up to collect important data and uncover the factors that led to food insecurity amid COVID-19, while developing recovery strategies on a large scale for business in the future.

NMSU faculty members Donovan Fuqua, Barry Brewer, Victor Pimentel and Faruk Arslan from the College of Business bring together expertise in logistics, management, supply chains and transportation. The group started this project about a year ago, after seeing the multitude of challenges posed by COVID-19, especially access to food. The work is part of the new Center for Supply Chain Entrepreneurship led by Brewer and Carlo Mora.

“When COVID started happening, we started asking ourselves, ‘What were some of the effects and characteristics that led to some of the food insecurity?’ Everybody’s realized sometimes that they go to the grocery aisle and things are missing. Different things that we used to just pick up off the shelves and they’re just not there” , said Fuqua, assistant professor of information systems.

In order to uncover some of these causes, the group first researched different Borderland companies to partner with and collect data from.

“We asked a major national food producer for access to all of their data, and they were extremely helpful,” Fuqua said. “They gave us all of their data from the Midwest, so about 12 different states. We obtained their wholesale data from fulfillment and distribution centers to wholesale sites to understand the flow of food goods and services entering the communities.

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Fuqua said he and his colleagues had done a lot of deep learning analysis of the data to try to figure out what kind of characteristics triggered the spike in food shortages. This includes looking at month-to-month unemployment rates, population demographics, ethnicities, ages and more. They also differentiated the types and costs of foods such as staple foods, snacks, and shelf-stable items. Other data collected came from the US Census Department, Bureau of Labor Statistics and other sources, which helped the team map specific information and differences between counties.

The research group began analyzing data from 2019 before the pandemic hit, then continued with 2020, which was divided into three phases: the initial lockdowns when COVID was first detected in the United States, the subsequent easing of COVID restrictions and the reintroduction of restrictions during the second surge.

“The big thing we found was the effect of rising unemployment on fluctuating food demand,” Fuqua explained. “Different types of occupations prevalent in the region, whether agriculture, manufacturing or government, have also had an impact on the turbulent food supply. The average age of the population was another key factor in the extent of food insecurity during COVID.

By bringing this research together, the group was able to quantify the effect of unemployment as a significant driver of food insecurity across the country. Another finding motivating future research is the increase in unemployment claims at the end of 2020.

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An interesting find related to where most food items were stored.

“We didn’t expect to see so much shift between rural and urban areas, and more items were added to urban shelves as opposed to rural shelves during food insecurities, which was also an eye-opener,” said Fuqua.

The researchers found that companies were struggling to keep up with demand during COVID-19 and were losing money in some areas. The group has started exploring large-scale recovery solutions to try to identify a decision model that companies can follow and use to prepare for future food disruptions.

“We are looking at some solutions for emergency contracts and some decision models for opening new areas or closing insecure items during COVID,” Fuqua said. “Even though what we’re looking at right now is COVID, in the future, if global warming becomes more of a factor, we may be able to model future food insecurity based on what happened during the pandemic.”

As part of the outreach mission to NMSU, Fuqua said it was important for the team, especially at the College of Business, to work with local businesses and adopt solutions with the latest academic research.

“We see our work with food producers as part of that,” Fuqua added. “One of the biggest breakthroughs in the United States right now is the El Paso/Juarez corridor for transportation. Transportation logistics is an area that also offers research opportunities for other disciplines like engineering.

Fuqua said the main goal of this project is to see student success and help direct NMSU graduates into their career fields, whether it’s transportation, logistics or management. of the supply chain.

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“We have already placed NMSU graduates through our collaborations,” he said. “As part of our job, we introduced them, but of course they did the work to get the job. We were able to open internships for students but in other areas.

The group has already submitted its first research paper to the Journal of Business Logistics and plans to prepare two follow-up papers in the spring and summer.

Fuqua added that the group is also conducting another major research project in predictive analytics using big data in partnership with manufacturing plants in Mexico.

Eye on Research is provided by New Mexico State University. This week’s article was written by Tatiana Favela of Marketing and Communications. It can be attached to [email protected].

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