June 26, 2020

Global Food for Thought: COVID-19 Hub | Systemic Vulnerabilities | A New Swarm

Global Food for Thought will be taking a break next week. We’ll be back with the latest buzz on food, agriculture, and global development on Friday, July 3. Until then, please share any suggestions you may have on what we can do better.

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Agriculture R&D in the Time of COVID-19

National lockdowns and travel restrictions are impacting every facet of the food system, including agriculture research and development. Many researchers are now shifting the timelines of their projects, turning to secondary data when field surveys are no longer possible, or pivoting to mobile and online solutions. CGIAR is refocusing as well, through the creation of the CGIAR COVID-19 Hub.

In collaboration with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, the Hub will bring together relevant research from across CGIAR centers and partners and create a platform for future breakthroughs. CGIAR is well suited to the task, as a majority of the system’s research portfolio is directly applicable to the pandemic: food systems, the human-animal-environment-health nexus, inclusive public food security and nutrition programs, and policies for crisis response.

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

​​​​​A worker takes off a bird net before rice harvest at Sompot Tubcharoen's farm in Bangkok, Thailand. (REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun)


A "Resilient" System? Although the global food system has proved relatively resilient in the COVID-19 pandemic, Nonresident Fellow Hope Michelson argues that this resilience is built on systemic vulnerabilities. A return to "normal," that leaves farmers and food supply chain workers without a safety net is not enough. This lack of support can have lasting nutritional and health consequences, as Cynthia Rosenzweig wrote last week

 https://www.thechicagocouncil.org/sites/default/files/calendar_icon.pngUPCOMING COUNCIL EVENTS
LIVE STREAM: Global Issues We Can't Ignore
Date: July 7
Time: 9 am CDT

LIVE STREAM: How to Understand our Globalized World
Date: July 14
Time: 1 pm CDT

Did you miss one of our previous livestreams? Don't worry! They are all available on our website to watch at any time. 


Crop Certification: Permitting biosafety certificates is one of the final phases in clearance for production and commercialization of new GM products sold to farmers. After ten years without any such clearances, China's agriculture ministry issued three biosafety certificates for GM soybean and corn varieties. In 2009 three approved GM varieties never made it to market due to public opposition.

A Break with Tradition: Global rice cultivation produces as many green house gas emissions as aviation. A pilot project in Thailand encourages a process of alternate wetting and drying rice paddies, a shift from traditional submersion of the crop. The technique saves water, energy, and reduces farmers’ costs.  SEE ALSO: Vietnam Rice Farmers Plant at Night to Beat Heat

Swarm in South America: A 15 km2 locust swarm in northeast Argentina is being closely monitored by both the Argentinian and Brazilian governments. Cooler, dry weather will prevent the locusts from spreading, but corn and wheat growers in southern Brazil remain worried. So far, experts are reporting minimal crop damage from the swarm.

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

Locusts Vary: The locusts currently in South America are different than the Desert Locusts plaguing Eastern Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. “Locust” refers to insects in the family Acrididae, which includes long-horned grasshoppers and crickets. The migratory locust has the widest range, spanning from New Zealand to the African continent, but many localized species abound, such as the Rocky Mountain locust, Italian and Moroccan locusts, and red and brown locusts in South Africa.

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

Satellites for Food Security: Satellite imagery has proved critical in providing information on conflict ridden areas and empty terrain which otherwise would remain unseen. A WFP pilot project launched in Mali is harnessing the effectiveness of such satellite data to assess soil conditions, drought risk, and conflict zones to determine if these hinder food security and what the most effective assistance in these affected regions would be.


Working Across the Globe: Zambia’s top farming supplier African Green Resources and a U.S. non-profit have partnered to implement the African Fertilizer and Agribusiness Partnership. The $ 40 million venture aims to improve crop yields and food security through credit lines, training, and animal feed improvements among the country’s 250,000 subsistence farmers.


Decentralizing Meat: COVID-19 is pushing meat producers and brands to make their supply chains more efficient. Traditional protein producers are being forced to reevaluate supply chain risks and are planning on decentralizing their plants. Not only does decentralization allow producers to be more agile, but it also allows them to keep their livestock in better health.  


Climate Conscious “AG-reements:” After a decade of waiting for a spot on the congressional agenda, advocates for carbon sequestration practices presented their case during the senate hearing on The Growing Climate Solutions Act of 2020. Those present in the hearing agreed that climate change is the single greatest long-term challenge for agriculture and global food security, supporting the bill’s core assertion that working with the nation’s farmers and ranchers is one of the quickest, most scalable and most economically feasible solutions to lowering GHGs. 

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

Getting Youth into Agriculture: Mastercard Foundation is partnering with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Nigeria to create the Young Africa Works program which aims to bring ten million young men and women into the agriculture market by 2030.The collaboration seeks to improve employment and entrepreneurship opportunities within agrifood value chains.

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

Exports Beefing Up: Brazilian meat exports to China are expected to surpass one million tons in 2020. As requested by Chinese authorities, meat processors in Brazil signed a declaration that their exports are free of coronavirus and comply with Chinese regulations. A tightening of inspections and regulations of meat imports comes after a COVID outbreak in Beijing was linked to a wholesale food market.

Record High Cheese Prices: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, cheese prices have seen sharp swings. This month, cheese prices rose to a record high of $2.81 per pound after facing record lows just weeks ago when the price of cheese was near $1.00 per pound. Due to an unstable supply chain with restaurants closed, this market has been particularly volatile. Cheese producers are unable to predict future prices of cheese as well as future demand.

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

Hunger Report Launch: Better Nutrition, Better Tomorrow
Date: 29 June
Time: 4:00 pm CEST

Reducing Food Loss and Waste during COVID-19 and Beyond
Date: 2 July
Time: 10:00 am EDT

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


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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. 

| By Janet Fierro

Guest Commentary - Rural Niger Women find Opportunity and Hope through Innovative Business Model

When researchers set out to find natural ways to manage a crop-destroying pest in sub-Saharan Africa cowpea fields they knew the results could have significant positive impact on smallholder farmers. What they may not have expected was the significance of the cottage industry it inspired and the entrepreneurial spirit of the rural women of Niger who led it.