December 1, 2014

Big Ideas and Emerging Innovations

REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Aquaponics Startups Offer Local, Organic Produce to Urban Populations
Backyard hobbyists, university researchers, nonprofits, restaurants and even inmates at a federal prison in Indiana are growing food using aquaponics, which combines aquaculture and hydroponics (growing plants in water). Fish are raised in big tanks made of high-density polyethylene. Their wastewater flows out of the tanks, gets cleaned up a bit and is pumped to the growing beds, where it becomes food for the plants. After the plants extract nutrients from the water, it’s filtered again and returned to the fish tanks. While the process is energy-intensive – the plants need artificial light to grow indoors – food can be grown year-round in urban areas, near to markets.

Working the Land and the Data
Kip Tom, a seventh-generation family farmer, harvests the staples of modern agriculture: seed corn, feed corn, soybeans and data. The demise of the small family farm has been a long time coming. But for farmers like Mr. Tom, technology offers a lifeline, a way to navigate the boom-and-bust cycles of making a living from the land. It is also helping them grow to compete with giant agribusinesses.

A Sustainable Solution for the Corn Belt
STRIPS, meaning “science-based trials of rowcrops integrated with prairie strips,” is an effective planting tactic that could mitigate much of the issues resulting from the Midwest’s industrial agriculture. If you convert 10% of a field of row crops to prairie, soil loss can be reduced by up to 95%, nutrient loss by 80 to 90%, and water runoff by 44%. Biodiversity nearly quadruples, and the process is not expensive.

Meet a Data Scientist Who's Helped Revolutionize Agriculture
David Lobell has helped turn agriculture upside down. Before the incorporation of data, scientists looking at food production would focus solely on field experiments and on-the-ground surveys. Lobell helped usher in an era of cooperation, where experienced researchers and farmers work together with data scientists to increase the efficiency of growing staple crops. That model led him to study climate change and its effects on agriculture in parts of the world with less access to technology.


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

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End Poverty in South Asia, World Bank

Global Development Blog, Center for Global Development

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Harvest 2050, Global Harvest Initiative

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One Acre Fund Blog, One Acre Fund

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Oxfam America Blog, Oxfam America

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WFP USA Blog, World Food Program USA