Fraser, Evan

Dr. Evan Fraser
Professor; Director, Arrell Food Institute; Fellow of the Trudeau Foundation; Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society
PhD, University of British Columbia, 2002
519 824-4120 ext. 53011

Food Systems Transformations; Agri-Technology; Food policy; climate change and sustainability.

Evan started thinking about agriculture and food systems while spending summers working on his grandfather’s fruit farm in Niagara.  There, he watched his stock-broker grandmother rake in an unconscionable amount of money on commissions from her clients’ investments while the farmers around were letting their crops rot because the cost of harvesting was higher than the cost of importing from the Southern US and Mexico. He decided, however, it was easier to write and talk about farming than actually try to make a living on it so passed on inheriting the family farm, opting instead for grad school.  He did degrees in forestry, anthropology and agriculture at UBC and UofT.  Since graduating, he worked in a policy institute with the Hon. Dr. Lloyd Axworthy, and began his academic career in 2003 in the UK where he worked on farming and climate change at the University of Leeds.  

Today, Evan works with large multi-disciplinary teams on developing solutions to help feed the world’s growing population while not destroying the ecosystems on which we depend for life. 

A passionate communicator, Evan has written for the Globe and Mail, the,,, the Walrus and the Ottawa Citizen, and has two popular non-fiction books about food and food security including Empires of Food: Feast, Famine and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations that was published by Simon and Schuster and shortlisted for the James Beard Food Literature Award.  He has also co-produced/co-hosted 3 1-hour radio documentaries for CBC’s premier documentary show Ideas on the future of food.

As a researcher, Evan is a co-author on over 100 academic papers and book chapters, played a leadership role in teams that have raised over $100M in research funding, and mentored close to 50 graduate students. 

Between 2016-18 he co-convened an ad hoc working group made up of producer groups, the food industry, philanthropy and civil society to propose that the Federal Government of Canada should create a National Food Policy Advisory Council. The creation of this council was announced by the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food Canada in the summer of 2019. 

Evan’s web video series on “feeding nine billion” has been watched over 500,000 times, he has self-published a graphic novel called #FoodCrisis about a fictitious food crisis that hits North America in the 2020s. Evan has also created a card game about global food security that won a gold medal at the International “Serious Play” conference. The videos, the graphic novel and the card game have been pulled together in a series of teacher-friendly high school lesson plans that are used in classrooms around the world. 

He is a full professor of Geography at the University of Guelph and helps lead the Food from Thought initiative, which is a $76.6 million research program based at the University of Guelph that explores how to use big data to reduce agriculture’s environmental footprint.

Today, Evan is the director of the Arrell Food Institute at the University of Guelph, which was established by a $20 million-dollar gift from the Arrell Family Foundation.  In this capacity, he co-chairs the Arrell Food Summit, and manages the Arrell Food Scholarship program as well as the Arrell Food Innovation Awards that deliver hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to groups that have made tremendous impacts on global food systems.

Over the next two generations, the globe faces an enormous human security challenge.  We must adapt to rapid economic and climate change by creating a food system that provides adequate and appropriate nutrition for 9 billion people in a way that does not compromise vital ecosystem services including biodiversity conservation and carbon sequestration.  Within the broad area of “global food security in the 21st century,” Evan has spent his professional life developing an externally funded multi-disciplinary research programme on the links between food security, landuse, and global environmental/economic change.

In this, he has five distinct strands to his work.

1. What can we learn from past food security crisis in order to understand where we might be vulnerable today?

I have used historic cases to combine work from a number of disciplines (including comparative history, development studies, landscape ecology, ecological economics, and political science) to identify food systems “vulnerable” to environmental change and published comparative work where relatively minor weather anomalies sparked major food-crises as a way of understanding how our own society may respond to similar shocks.  In particular, I have explored the Irish Potato Famine, the “Great Famines” of the early 1300s, and the Ethiopian famine of the early 1980s.

2. What are the socio-economic forces that shape our food-producing landscapes today?

In my opinion, we have adequate scientific knowledge to sustainably produce food in many parts of the world.  However, farmers are not always able to use this knowledge.   Therefore, I am interested in understanding the socio-economic factors that shape farmer decisions.  This had led me to conduct empirical work (usually involving interviews, questionnaires or focus groups discussions) in a range of settings including:  urban Thailand, rural Belize, and rural British Columbia.  I have also supervised graduate students or post-doctoral researchers to do similar work in: the uplands of the UK, rural and urban Malawi, rural Ghana, and peri-urban Bangladesh.

3. What are the implications of different types of landscapes for both food security and other ecosystem services?

Different landscapes provide different things: some provide low-cost food; some provide habitat conservation; others provide carbons sequestration; still others are resilient to climate change.  I am interested in conducting research that explores the synergies and tradeoffs implied by different types of landscape.  This work has been based on extensive collaboration with natural and social science colleagues and involved working on a range of topics in different ecological settings including: the contribution of the uplands of the UK to a range of ecosystem services, on land management in general and on the relation between crops and climate. My current work in this area is to explore trade offs between food, fibre and fuel production in different parts of the world.

4. What regions of the world are likely to be vulnerable in terms of food insecurity in the 21st century?

Current crop-climate models used to project future food insecurity only capture the relationships between different types of crop and the climate and do not include how farmers may adapt to environmental or social change.  However, farmer behaviour may  either amplify or reduce the impact that climate change has on food productivity.  As such, I have been working with large interdisciplinary teams to formally combine an understanding of farmer decision making with crop-climate models.  In one recent analysis we explored the sensitivity of Chinese rice, wheat and maize harvests to drought and in another collected data at the farm scale in a number of African settings to use as a way of better understanding crop-climate model results. We have also worked at the global scale to understand what socio-economic, governance and geographic factors make food production vulnerable to drought.

5. Raising public debases about environmental change, food and sustainability.

I am involved in a partnership with American journalist Andrew Rimas. Together, we have co-authored two non-academic books on food, sustainability and global environmental change. The first, titled Beef: the Untold Story of how Milk, Muscle and Meat Shaped the World, (William Morrow, 2008) is an exploration of the evolution of western diets through time focusing on meat and dairy. The second book is called Empires of Food: Feast, Famine and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations (to be published in the summer of 2010 in North America by The Free Press and in the UK by Random Books) and is an examination of the history of global food production and shows how large scale food systems tend to decline during periods of climate change.

The Conversation Canada, February 3, 2020. Insects, seaweed and lab-grown meat could be the foods of the future.
The Guardian PEI, February 10, 2020. Foods for the future: You may be eating insects, seaweed and lab-grown meat.
Thorold News, March 21, 2020.  CANADA: Coronavirus unveils the perils of our ‘just enough, just in time’ food system.
Hill Times, March 23, 2020. Food insecurity demands attention in a hungry, unstable world.
Business Insider, March 25, 2020. Coronavirus is revealing a major flaw in the systems we rely on to get food.
iPolitics, March 27, 2020. Lessons to take from COVID-19 for the next pandemic.
iPolitics, April 24, 2020. What COVID-19 means for food systems and meatpacking.
Canadian Science Policy Centre, April 29. 2020. Food, History and COVID.
The Star, June 11, 2020. Any potential COVID-19 vaccine will have limitations.
Phys Org, June 18, 2020. 100 days of coronavirus has sent shock waves through the food system.
Econo Times, June 21, 2020. 100 days of coronavirus has sent shock waves through the food system.
The European Sting, June 23, 2020. The technologies – and thoughtful collaborations – that can build resilience in the food system after COVID-19.
iPolitics, March 20, 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic and Canada’s food system.
Tech Fo Good, October 7, 2002, A Martian menu that coudl transofrm how we eat on Earth
The National Post, November 29, 2022, How what we eat on Mars could determine the guture of food on Earth.
The Agenda with Steve Paikin, October 11, 2022, Is our global food system in a permanent state of crisis?
The Province, February 22 High-tech and local, making B.C.'s food system stronger and more resilient.
Canadian Science Policy Centre, Global One Health Initiative Combat Future Pandemics


Recent Videos

For a complete list go to: Feeding Nine Billion

CBC "The future of Farming in Canada is High Tech and Low Impact"




For a full list of publications, visit Evan's google scholar profile.


Popular Writing

Empires of Food

The Walrus "How to Feed Nine Billion",

CNN Blog



The hidden power of food: Finding value in what we eat

Graduate Students Supervised

Name Research
Ph.D. Islam, Manjurul Climate Change Adaptation, Food Security and system, Locally-led adaptation, Climate-induced migration, Water Security and governance, Climate Resilient Livelihood, Climate Governance and justice, and Environmental Sociology.
Ph.D. Martin, Alicia Food systems, security, pedagogies, and literacy promoting sustainability through an interdisciplinary lens.
Ph.D. + IDS Obroh, Oveka Regenerative Climate Smart Agricultural Crop Yield Prediction
M.A. + IDS Robbins, Elisha Building adaptive capacity to climate change, the northward expansion of global agriculture, environmental policy, and agroecology.
M.Sc. Roger, Bowen Research interest: Regenerative agriculture, agroecology, and diversifying the food system in the face of climate change.
Ph.D. 2011 Atibila, John Wetland livelihoods and vulnerability .
M.A. 2012 Hazen, Shelly The effect of globalization on farm sustainability.
Ph.D. 2013 Antwi-Agyei, Philip The vulnerability of small holder farmers to climate change in Ghana
M.A. 2013 CoDyre, Michael The Potential of urban agriculture in Guelph.
Ph.D. 2013 Khandakar, Munim The effect of salinity intrusion on food security in Bangladesh.
M.A. 2014 Johnson, Rylea Food systems and food security; evaluating the potential food produce auctions to operate as a key alternative food system.
Ph.D. 2014 Sneyd, Lauren [PhD] Zoning in on food riots, wild food and food security in urban Cameroon.
M.A. 2015 Armitage, Tom The Impact and Potential Roles of Community Food Centres on Local Food Distribution in the Southwestern Ontario Context.
M.A. 2015 Bond, Natachia Examining Adaptations to Changing Fish Populations of Tonlé Sap Lake in Cambodia: A Case Study of Pursat Province, Cambodia.
M.A. 2015 Hodgins, Kelly “We Are A Business, Not A Social Service Agency”: Barriers To Widening Access For Low-Income Consumers In Alternative Food Market Spaces
M.A. 2017 Bramberger, Lucas Understanding Labour and Production in Alternative Agriculture: Requirements, variability, and perceptions of labour on certified organic farms in Ontario.
M.Sc. 2017 Gillam, William Evaluating the Impacts of Agricultural Development on Landscape Scale Ecosystem Stability in a European Context.
M.A. 2017 Kwok, Eugenia Perceptions of gender dynamics in small-scale fisheries and conservation areas: A Case Study in the Pursat Province of Tonle Sap Lake, Cambodia.
Ph.D. 2017 Rotz, Sarah Digging into Industrial Food Systems: A study of socio-ecological diversity in Ontario agriculture.
M.A. 2017 Therien, Alexandra The impact of the rise of supermarkets on household urban food security: A case study of Accra, Ghana.
M.A. 2017 Zundel, Trudi Climate-smart agriculture as a development buzzword: framework for flexible development, or greenwashing the status quo? Insights from Northern Ghana.
M.A. 2018 Duncan, Emily (MA) Exploring the Impact of Precision Agriculture on Social Relations in Ontario.
M.A. 2018 Gravely, Evan Investigating the role of supermarkets in alternative protein consumption.
M.A. 2018 Kinach, Lesia Investigating the role of Ontario's Food Donation Tax Credit for Farmers in addressing food loss and food insecurity, with a specific focus on donations of fresh produce.
M.A. 2018 Regan, Jaida Investigating Food Waste on Canadian University Campuses.
Ph.D. 2019 McInnes, Ashley An Investigation of Food Movement Strategies in the Neoliberal Era.
M.A. 2020 Kozachenko, Chantel Perceptions of Controlled Environment Agriculture: Food Security and Northern Communities
M.A. + IDS 2020 Major, Chelsea Exploring the opportunities and constraints to the success of Newfoundland's wild lowbush blueberry industry.
M.A. 2020 Marquis, Sarah Datafication on the Farm: An Exploration of the Social Impacts of Agricultural Big Data on Canadian Crop Farms.
Ph.D. 2020 Sethuratnam, Sri Understanding the role and contributions of the Incubator Farm Program in creating the next generation of farmers in the United States and Canada.
Ph.D. 2022 Abdulai, Abdul-Rahim PhD The digitization of agriculture and the (un)changing dynamics of rural small holder farming systems in Ghana, Sub-Sahara Africa.
M.A. 2022 Russel, Conor Cyber Security in Digital Agriculture: Investigating Farmer Perceptions, Preferences, & Expert Knowledge.
M.Sc. 2023 Dadhwal, Sharan Life Cycle Assessments as a Tool to Evaluate Single Use Bioplastics Utensils.
Ph.D. 2023 Duncan, Emily The affordances of digital agricultural technologies.
Ph.D. + IDS 2023 Quarshie, Philip Smallholder Farmer's Climate Adaptation practices and the digital of climate-smart agriculture in Ghana, Sub-Saharan Africa.
M.A. 2023 Richardson, Olivia Digital Agriculture Technology’s Capacity to Reduce Negative On-Farm Environmental Impacts: Perspectives from Canadian Oilseed and Grain Farmers.
M.Sc. inc. Kreher, Kevin Social, environmental, and economic changes due to precision agriculture and digital technology use in North American agriculture.