Berkeley Food Institute co-founder Claire Kremen wins Volvo Environment Prize

Berkeley Food Institute
Paul Kirchner/Courtesy
Claire Kremen’s work proposes the diversification of farmland to prevent the simplification of landscapes caused by large-scale agriculture.

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Berkeley Food Institute, or BFI, co-founder Claire Kremen was awarded one of the most prestigious prizes in the scientific community for her research in resilient food systems, according to a BFI press release.

Kremen will receive the Volvo Environment Prize and an approximate $150,000 cash reward Nov. 12 for her work on how humanity can feed itself while protecting biodiversity, according to the press release. Her work proposes the diversification of farmland to prevent the simplification of landscapes caused by large-scale agriculture.

This would involve farms growing a variety of crops within the same field, as well as “non-crop vegetation,” such as trees, streams, pastures and orchards, according to Kremen.

“Its a tremendous honour,” Kremen said in an email. “I am so glad that the (Volvo Environment Prize Foundation) … has chosen to shine a spotlight on the important sustainability challenge of managing our agricultural and other working lands with and for biodiversity.”

By moving away from conventional farming methods, farmers can reduce their reliance on expensive inputs such as pesticides and synthetic fertilizers that are often also environmentally harmful, Kremen said in the email. This style of farming may also help farmers endure the effects of climate change, including more frequent droughts and other extreme weather events.

Diversification practices also enable the maintenance of natural habitats that then provide additional habitats for pollinators and microorganisms, Kremen added. This promotes soil fertility, water regulation, crop pollination and crop pest control.

“We hope that our research will help people and governments see the many environmental benefits, and create the policies and programs that allow this kind of farming to be adopted more broadly,” Kremen said in the email.

According to Kremen, changing agricultural working land management is essential to preventing the loss of their productive capacity

Nina Ichikawa, executive director of BFI, said in an email that Kremen’s research into the diversification of farming systems is “central” to the “systems-thinking approach” necessary to solving the problems within food systems.

“Claire’s work teaches us that the old way of thinking, that we must ‘feed 9 billion people as cheaply as possible’ is overly simplistic, may not work, and may create more problems than it solves,” Ichikawa said in an email.

Kremen said she and her colleagues are currently conducting a natural experiment by comparing management practices among different farms.

They found that the largest impediment to applying diversification practices for farmers is the cost to make the switch, but that this style of farming can become profitable after the first few years.

“This prize shows how important it is that we build a sustainable future for humanity through reliance on nature’s services, and that we protect our biodiversity, without which we ourselves cannot survive,” Kremen said in the email.


Contact Olivia Moore at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @olivia_moore18 .