May 14, 2018

Big Ideas and Emerging Innovations


A man fills up his plastic containers with water before setting off to deliver them to residents who increasingly have no access to piped or well water in Pluit, north Jakarta, September 30, 2014. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside


Water is now seen as a commercial necessity and a commodity to be bought and sold, which leads to debates about how best to use this valuable resource. As water scarcity increases, a system will need to be developed in order to keep track of water usage and rights. Blockchain can’t yet track the flow of water. But it can increase efficiency, reduce costs, and evolve how physical commodities like water are distributed.
Beef cattle ranchers have always known that making the best steak starts with the genetic makeup of the herd. Over the past year, those genetics have taken a historic leap thanks to new, predictive DNA technology. Today, ranchers can shop for bulls or bull semen touting a very specific genetic concoction that's prime for improving their herd.
One of the amazing aspects of new technology is how it can be applied with awesome results to traditional "legacy" industries. High tech in the agricultural sector is radically transforming what we think of as a bucolic, hardly changing endeavor into a truly cutting-edge one with vast increases in productivity. Even as populations grow, food harvests are increasing at a far faster pace.
Fully robotic milkers could be the investment that might rescue Japan, which is struggling to deal with its declining population. There is a problem even with those who are still working: They are only about two-thirds as productive as Americans, on average. Agriculture is at the bottom of the heap, with the average American farmer producing 40 times as much as the average Japanese farmer.
China is seeking a lead in editing plant genes, potentially shifting the epicenter of the emerging agricultural technology toward the East. This stokes long-running worries in the US that the forefront of agricultural science could swing from the US Farm Belt to China, where the government has encouraged the development of large-scale, Western-style farming operations to boost domestic food production, and rely less on imports.
More than 80 percent of Nigeria’s farmers are smallholder farmers, and they account for the poorest 40 percent of the population. Hoping to use a range of tools to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, a number of agri-tech startups have appeared in Nigeria. However, expanding digital solutions to smallholder farmers in Nigeria is often constrained by illiteracy, cultural barriers, and geography.


The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


1,000 Days Blog, 1,000 Days

Africa Can End Poverty, World Bank

Agrilinks Blog

Bread Blog, Bread for the World

Can We Feed the World Blog, Agriculture for Impact

Concern Blogs, Concern Worldwide

Institute Insights, Bread for the World Institute

End Poverty in South Asia, World Bank

Global Development Blog, Center for Global Development

The Global Food Banking Network

Harvest 2050, Global Harvest Initiative

The Hunger and Undernutrition Blog, Humanitas Global Development

International Food Policy Research Institute News, IFPRI

International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center Blog, CIMMYT

ONE Blog, ONE Campaign

One Acre Fund Blog, One Acre Fund

Overseas Development Institute Blog, Overseas Development Institute

Oxfam America Blog, Oxfam America

Preventing Postharvest Loss, ADM Institute

Sense & Sustainability Blog, Sense & Sustainability

WFP USA Blog, World Food Program USA


| By Colin Christensen , Eva Koehler

Guest Commentary - The Plague You’ve Never Heard About Could be as Destructive as Covid-19: How the Threat from Desert Locusts Shows the Need for Innovations in how Organizations Scale

The international community needs to mobilize to combat the plague of locusts devouring East Africa. At the same time however, we should also consider the long-term investments we must make to build lasting resilience to climate change among smallholder populations.

| By Sarah Bingaman Schwartz, Maria Jones

Guest Commentary - Reducing Food Loss and Waste by Improving Smallholder Storage

Reducing postharvest losses by half would result in enough food to feed a billion people, increase smallholder income levels and minimize pressure on natural resources. The ADM Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss works with smallholders in Bihar to improve storage and reduce loss. 

| By Mark Titterington

Guest Commentary - A European perspective on the journey to a regenerative agriculture system…

Regenerative farming practices can lead to improved soil health and farm productivity and profitability, boosting crop quality and yields, improving the resilience of farms to extreme weather events and reducing the propensity for soil degradation and run-off, but most excitingly, creates the opportunity to actually draw down and store carbon from the atmosphere in agriculture soils.

| By Peter Carberry

Field Notes - Brokering Research Crucial for Climate-Proofing Drylands

9 out of 12 interventions identified for agriculture by the Global Commission on Adaptation involve research and development. For smallholder farmers in drylands, some of the most vulnerable to climate change, the role of innovation brokers may prove just as important as doing the science itself. 

| By Julius A. Nukpezah, Joseph T. Steensma, Nhuong Tran, Kelvin M. Shikuku

Field Notes - Reducing Post-Harvest Losses in Nigeria's Aquaculture Sector Contributes to Sustainable Development

While increasing fish production and productivity in the long term are practical strategies for addressing malnutrition in Nigeria, reducing post-harvest losses of fish is an economic and a rational strategy of increasing value of aquaculture businesses that lead to sustainable economic development.