December 6, 2019

Global Food for Thought: Cow Virtual Reality | Predicting Water Conflict | Banking on Biodiversity

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A New Tool To Predict Water-Related Conflicts

As water scarcity reaches more people across the globe, the risk of water-related conflict increases. The UN Water, Peace, and Security Partnership has developed an app that has predicted conflict with an 86 percent success rate in trial runs. The Global Early Warning Tool uses machine learning to assess conflict risks using socio-economic, demographic, meteorological, and conflict data from the past 20 years.

The tool is being used in Mali to bring government and civil groups together to discuss potential risks. The nation has seen water scarcity drive conflict between Dogon farmers and Fulani herders. Conflict risks in Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria, and India have also been identified. OF THE WEEK

A combine harvester is seen collecting soybeans at Amatheon Agri farm in Nwoya district in northern Uganda. (REUTERS/James Akena) ACTORS 

Refocusing for FAO: FAO director-general Qu Dongyu announced an organizational initiative to boost transparency and achieve stronger results in two key focus areas: innovation and the interests of vulnerable people target areas. The director-general reiterated the importance of FAO initiatives accelerating agricultural transformation and sustainable rural development.

Bali’s Water Problems: Bali is facing a water crisis threating food security and quality of life on the island. The wet season has been delayed, creating a drought affecting 50 million people across Indonesia, while the massive tourism sector’s unsustainable water usage is depleting the island’s groundwater. Some are hopeful that the Balinese government is finally taking the water crisis seriously but there are still obstacles causing drying villages.  


Soybean Yields and Plant Breeders:  For the past twenty years, average soybean yields have been on the rise. Africa, however, has not seen the same growth in yields that many other regions have experienced. A lack of plant breeders has hampered soybean productivity on the continent and the Feed the Future Soybean Innovation Lab is working to remedy the situation. Through educational programs and a Pan-African Soybean Variety Trials Program, the identification of new, high-yielding varieties is being fast-tracked.


Saving and Preserving Crops: An international project is attempting to help key crops survive in the face of climate change. A growing global population and changing environmental conditions present urgent new challenges for crop breeders. To meet such challenges, scientists from around the world are venturing into hard-to-reach corners of the world to find wild relatives of domesticated crops to ensure genetic diversity is preserved in seed banks.

The Power of Food Waste: Farmers are beginning to harness methane from food waste to create electricity. Up to 10 percent of all human-made greenhouse gas emissions are linked to food waste – this conversion process reduces food waste and produces renewable energy while increasing farmers’ income. 

Unprecedented Hunger in Zimbabwe: The World Food Programme has announced that Zimbabwe is facing the “worst hunger crisis in a decade,” as a deadly combination of flooding, drought and bad economic policy devastates Zimbabwe. Over half the population, 7.7 million people, are now food insecure. Livestock, a source of wealth and food security for many families, have been lost at rates more than double than last year. DIVE

Saving Seeds for the Future: There are over 1700 genebanks—collections of food crops—across the world. Recognizing that many were vulnerable to a host of concerns, ranging from weather to funding, a global seed vault on the island of Svalbard, Norway, was established in 2008. The vault is over 100 meters inside a mountain, far above sea level and in permafrost that offers natural climate control for almost one million specimens. Although its location was chosen with long-term global climate shifts in mind, melting permafrost has already affected the vault since 2017. CRUNCH

Bovine Virtual Reality: A team of Russian researchers and veterinarians have developed virtual reality headsets for dairy cows. The virtual reality simulation applied to the cows in intended to convince the animals that they’re standing in summer fields rather than cold winter ones. As a result, the cows’ anxiety is reduced, and their milk production increases.


Aid with a Ripple Effect: Giving cash directly to the world’s poor has become a preferred option of charitable aid and a new study suggests that direct cash aid benefits more than just those who receive it. Money is circulated through local businesses and every dollar in cash aid more than doubled its worth in increased total economic activity. The study gives more information to help donors gauge and judge their noncash aid programs.

Climate Resilience in the Classroom: Schools across the United States are using innovative programs to train children to fight climate change. Using workshops and lectures, schools are teaching students how to detect weather patterns, control water runoff, and design rain gardens. 


Big Year for Plants: The FAO launched the United Nations’ International Year of Plant Health (IYPH) for 2020. FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu emphasized that plant health is not something to be taken for granted and the beneficial effects on the world plant health plays. The IYPH will emphasize prevention and protection of, and the role all humans can play to ensure and promote plant health.

Opinion: Agricultural Research, Globally: While many people know about the USDA’s agricultural research and US land grant universities, a lesser-known driver of agricultural productivity is the CGIAR system. This system is comprised of 15 research centers around the world. The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, best know for the work of Dr. Norman Borlaug, has produced innovation since 1943.   


International Food Aid Hearing: The House Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture will hold a hearing regarding the implementation of farm bill international food assistance and development programs next week. The hearing will be livestreamed. & COMMODITIES

US Imposes Tariffs: The United States imposed tariffs on Brazil and Argentina as President Trump accused the two countries of devaluating their currencies, giving their exports an advantage in international markets and hurting US farmers. In the ongoing US-China trade war, demand for US farm goods such as soybeans have been cut as China has turned to South America. Brazil and Argentina had been previously exempted from the US’ tariffs on steel and aluminum.

Meat Fueling Food Price Rise: World food prices rose in November, according to the United Nations. The Food price index, used to assess global food prices, reached a 26-month high. The strongest drivers were meat and vegetable oil prices. Beef and sheep prices rose the most, due to Chinese demand and end-of-the-year holidays.

Cargill Invests in Cocoa: Agribusiness giant Cargill has announced new investments in western Africa. More than $113 million will be used to expand Cargill’s cocoa processing facilities in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, with an additional $12.3 million going to sustainability and supply chain tracing programs in the region. EVENTS

Taste of Illinois
Date: 8 December
Location: Chicago, Illinois

International Forum of Agricultural Robotics
Date: 10-11 December
Location: Toulouse, France

Designing and Growing an Agroforest
Date: 14-15 December
Location: Kauai, Hawai'i
Global Forum for Food and Agriculture
Date: 16-18 January
Location: Berlin, Germany

American Farm Bureau Federation Convention & Trade Show
Date: 17-22 January 2020
Location: Austin, Texas
Edible Institute
Date: 25-26 January 2020
Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico

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. 

| 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.