February 7, 2020

Global Food for Thought: Cacao | Soils | Locusts

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Locusts Travel Further

The FAO reported a desert locust swarm in Eritrea, as well as multiple locust swarm sightings in Oman and Yemen as the insects continue their rampage through east Africa. Officials warn that food-insecure countries such as South Sudan are at a heightened risk and require additional funds to deploy the only viable solution – spray planes.

Prior to the locust invasion, almost 11 million people in Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya were food insecure, and malnutrition and drought in Eritrea, Kenya, and Ethiopia were recently included in Care International's report on underreported humanitarian crises. These crises could be severely worsened by the spread of desert locusts.

https://engage.thechicagocouncil.org/l/557772/2018-10-01/5xkyvc/557772/225998/camera_icon.pngPHOTO OF THE WEEK

A Palestinian man harvests dates from a palm tree in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip (REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)

https://www.thechicagocouncil.org/sites/default/files/globe_icon.pngBIG ACTORS 

Squatters’ Rights: The Brazilian government is beginning a new approach to the issue of deforestation—giving land to squatting farmers. The hope is that land ownership will encourage responsible land usage and discourage further deforestation if the land they are using is depleted. 300,000 land deeds will begin to be given out this month.

Calls for Aid: Government authorities and UN officials in Somalia have issued a call for increased assistance as they predict more than 690,000 children could face acute malnourishment by the end of this year. The country’s food crisis has been compounded by the ongoing invasion of locusts that has devastated farmland across east Africa.


Investing in Soil: The most extensive data on soils in Africa is grounded in soil mapping done in the 1950s and 1960s—60 to 70 years ago—which suggests that soil degradation could be even worse than currently known. A new paper from David Nielson diagnoses the challenges faced by governments, international organizations and research institutions in mitigating and reversing the decline of soil quality in Africa. The paper argues for a new soil initiative that is organized around workstreams that prioritize establishing soil information systems, understanding the economic costs and consequences of soil degradation, and enhancing human and institutional capacity towards soil science.


Flu Season: In addition to the spread of Swine fever and Coronavirus, China announced the outbreak of H5N1 bird flu. The disease has killed 4500 chickens and pushed authorities to cull 17,828 birds so far. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia reported its cases of the H5N8 strain have killed 22,700 birds.
SEE ALSO: Greece Reports First Case of Swine Fever

Smoke in Your Shiraz: Australia’s vineyards, which make up the fourth largest exporter of wine in the world, are feeling the effects of the wildfires despite little direct damage. While most vineyards have been spared from the wildfires, smoke contamination is raising concerns. Grapes, a type of fruit able to absorb smoke, can release the smoke compounds during the fermentation process resulting in tainted flavor of the wine.

Cocoa 2.0: Cocoa farmers in Cameroon are thriving after using new seed varieties developed by the Institute of Agricultural Research for Development and funded by the African Development Bank. The new seeds produce twice the yield per hectare as older generations of cocoa seed varieties.

https://www.thechicagocouncil.org/sites/default/files/news_icon.pngDEEPER DIVE

Cocoa or Cacao? Although sometimes used interchangeably, cocoa and cacao aren't necessarily the same thing. The cacao tree (Theobroma cacao) produces pods, the seeds in which are processed into a fluid paste, called liquor, which in turn becomes cocoa powder and chocolate. Some experts use "cacao" to refer to the pods, beans, and ground beans. Others refer to unprocessed pods and beans as cacao, and to the fermented pods (which become chocolate) as cocoa beans.

https://www.thechicagocouncil.org/sites/default/files/chart_icon.pngDATA CRUNCH

The More You Know: Researchers are conducting surveys to get a better sense of the gender gap in food security. While there is considerable data on food security and nutrition for the household level, there is little information available on intrahousehold differences. Depending on the geographic location, women could be up to 4.7 percent more likely than men to experience food insecurity.


Conflict Hurting Communities: Three UN agencies have raised concerns of food security in the Central Sahel. Conflict in the region has led to drastic increases in internally displaced people and disrupted rural communities, putting an estimated 3.3 million people at risk for food insecurity. The FAO, UNICEF, and the WFP are all calling for immediate assistance for the region.


Ancient Agriculture: Scientists in Israel have successfully planted and grown dates using 2000-year old seeds that were discovered at an archaeological site in the Judean desert. The seeds, named Adam, Jonah, Uriel, Boaz, Judith and Hannah, will give insight into the ancient agriculture of the Levant.


One More Time: The USDA issued its third and final tranche of 2019 Market Facilitation Program (MFP) payments this week. Farmers should expect the payments in their accounts as early as Friday. The MFP payments were set up to aid farmers in response to the trade war with China that began in 2018. Secretary Perdue has expressed optimism about an initial 2020 phase one deal with China that would prevent the need for future MFP payments.

https://www.thechicagocouncil.org/sites/default/files/market_icon.pngTRADE & COMMODITIES

Supply-chain Scaries: Global trade and supply chains are in a flux as countries lock down borders to protect against the spread of the novel Coronavirus. Companies across East Asia are slowing down production due to lack of supplies and labor while uncertainty clouds US exports that are en route. However, not all countries have reported disruption – Ukraine and Russia continue to maintain standard agricultural trade.

 https://www.thechicagocouncil.org/sites/default/files/calendar_icon.pngUPCOMING EVENTS

Food Talk Live
Date: 18 February
Location: Chicago, IL

Interdrought 2020
Date: 9-13 March
Location: Mexico City, Mexico

World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit
Date: 17-18 March
Location: San Francisco, CA

Global Food Security Symposium
Date: 26 March
Location: Washington, DC

Please share any tips or thoughts on what we can do better here.


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 Roger Thurow

Our New Gordian Knot

Fifty years ago Dr. Norman Borlaug recieved the Nobel Peace Prize for cutting the "Goridan knot" of population and food production. Now the planet faces another seemingly intractable problem: how to nourish the planet while preserving the planet.