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NUS student wins smart mapping competition with food security solution

21 Jun 2016

A National University of Singapore (NUS) student’s innovative use of Geographic Information System (GIS) technology – otherwise known as smart mapping technology – has earned him the 2016 Esri Young Scholar Award.

Yan Yingwei, a final year PhD student from the Department of Geography at NUS, will be attending the world’s largest spatial event – the Esri User Conference (Esri UC) in San Diego, California – and presenting his project to more than 15,000 spatial professionals from over 140 countries.

Yan used GIS technology to analyse the impact of climate change on invasive crop pest species, and used volunteered geographic information – a form of crowdsourcing or user-generated content – to analyse any pest invasion risks.  His winning project, 'Investigating potential distributional changes of invasive crop pest species associated with global climate change using GIS', aims to mitigate the negative impact of pests on agriculture and to develop sustainable solutions to ensure global food security.

Yan concluded that regions with lower temperature or precipitation levels will host more pest species, and with climate change, pests are likely to move northward to areas with cooler climates for optimum survival. Yan also found that in Asia, regions of North China, North India, Thailand, Russia will be affected by future pest invasions the most, and will face an increase in pest populations and turnovers.

By providing greater insight to the movement of these pest species, Yan’s findings could potentially enable agricultural planners, government bodies, policy and decision-makers to easily identify areas around the globe that need more attention when it comes to invasive crop pest control.

“I was inspired by the size of cities like Singapore and Hong Kong, and the need for us secure food supply without the natural resources that other countries have. As the human population increases, so will the problem of the global food supply. This is why it is imperative for us to take measures to ensure that this is not compromised,” shared Yan.

“For countries that are highly dependent on food imports such as Singapore, there is a need for us to focus on strengthening our relationships with countries that are predicted to have higher pest species richness and turnover rates. This is because these countries may curtail their exports, as they may be pressured to protect their own food security in light of more serious pest problems in the future,” he continued.

The nationwide competition, run annually by Esri, celebrates excellence in geospatial study, and more specifically, the creative use of GIS technology to solve commercial and community issues. The award recognises the exemplary work of current undergraduate and graduate students majoring in geospatial science disciplines at international universities.

“Every year, the Esri Young Scholars Awards celebrates the creative ingenuity of youths in leveraging spatial thinking and GIS technology. By helping cultivate spatial thinking amongst our youth – and teaching them to apply it to their everyday lives – we can help students better understand the world around them and innovatively address real-life issues,” commented Esri Singapore CEO Thomas Pramotedham.

Mr Pramotedham added that Yan’s project was an obvious choice for the panel of judges, as it shed light on the global conundrum of food security and articulated the award’s objectives.

This is not the first year that NUS has seen one of its students winning the prestigious award – in 2014, Abdul Rahim Bin Abdul Hamid, a student from the Department of Architecture, won the award for his project titled ‘Potential ecological networks in Singapore’. The project looked to help Singapore’s planners effectively implement urban biodiversity conservation initiatives by enabling them to easily identify areas around Singapore which need more intensive planting of greenery, alongside areas which are likely to suffer due to building and construction works.

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