Systematic Mapping of Cross-border Threats to Enhance U.S. Agricultural Security

Zhihong Xu, Ph.D., is a leading a team of researchers across multiple academic departments to systematically
map cross-border threats with the goal of enhancing agricultural security in the U.S. 

The project is supported by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Centers of Excellence: Cross Border
Threat Screening and Supply Chain Defense. We spoke with one of the team members  to learn more about this
important endeavor.

      What is the background and objective of the project? 
Protecting food security, preventing biosecurity threats and ensuring a stable food supply is crucial for promoting economic stability, international trade and national security. A great deal of research has addressed critical food and agricultural defense/security issues and attracted interest across a broad array of public and private institutions. Unfortunately, the breadth of the issues and fluctuations in topical interest and funding levels all contribute to an incomplete mapping of the body of work in these areas.

This systematic mapping study has three primary objectives:
i. Our first aim is to pinpoint the factors that significantly influence agricultural and food security. This involves a comprehensive examination of intentional and unintentional elements including climate change, natural disasters, invasive species, emerging diseases, trade policies and socio-economic factors. 
ii. The second objective of this study is to delve into the impact of cross-border threats on agricultural/food security. These threats can manifest in various dimensions, such as public health, economics and the environment. We will thoroughly investigate their implications on agricultural systems. 
iii. The third facet of our study revolves around distinguishing between the effects of pathogens, pests and other factors on plants and crops versus their specific impacts on agricultural livestock. This differentiation will provide insight into the unique challenges faced by each sector. 

How does the project align with the mission of ALEC?
ALEC aims to enhance the quality of life and well-being of individuals and communities in Texas, the U.S. and worldwide through its high-quality teaching, research, extension and outreach programs that provide vital information on agricultural sciences and human performance. This study identifies potential threats to the food and agricultural supply chains in the U.S., emphasizing the department's commitment to its mission.
Who are the researchers involved in the project?
Zhihong Xu, Ph.D., associate professor, ALEC; Matt Baker, Ph.D., professor and ALEC department head; Bruce Herbert, Ph.D., professor, ALEC; Jaehyun Ahn, Ph.D., research scientist, ALEC; Ashlynn Kogut, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Education and Human Development; DonnaLee Sullins, Ph.D., Instructional Assistant Professor, Department of Hospitality, Hotel Management and TourismShuai Ma, Ph.D. student, ALEC; Adeyemi Anjorin Ezekiel, Ph.D. student, ALEC.

What are the expected outcomes and evaluation methods for the project?
i. To ensure transparency, the project will provide comprehensive documentation including a PRISMA flow diagram illustrating the search and screening process, a search strategy appendix, a coding sheet, a coding scheme and metadata documentation. These documents will enable stakeholders to understand and replicate the study methodology. 
ii. The study will result in the creation of a systematic mapping database containing a comprehensive collection of relevant information on food and agricultural security threats. The project team will produce a systematic mapping research paper summarizing the findings, insights and knowledge gaps identified through the study. With the organization of two milestone conferences, the project will also generate two conference proceedings. These proceedings will capture key discussions, research presentations and recommendations shared during the conferences.
iii. The annual report will provide a summary of the project’s progress, achievements and milestones during each year of its implementation. The final project will present a comprehensive overview of the projects’ outcomes, including a synthesis of the research findings, recommendations for mitigating, predicting, preparing for, and responding to biological threats or hazards, and identification of further research studies in specific disciplines.