November 6, 2020 | By Julia Whiting

Global Food for Thought: Diversification | 5G Farmers | Pandemic Prevention

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Diversity is Good for Plants, People, and the Planet

More than half of the calories that the world consumes come from just three plants—rice, maize, and wheat. Agricultural production systems have grown as simplified as our diets, with detrimental effects to the planet. A new analysis of almost 42,000 comparisons between simplified and diversified agricultural systems has found that diversifying crop production systems benefits biodiversity and ecosystem services, all while maintaining crop yields. Diversification practices included both above- and belowground techniques, including reduced tillage, noncrop diversity, and inoculation. Researchers found that analyses of specific practices gave consistent results—for example, reduced tillage promoted soil fertility, carbon sequestration, nutrient cycling, and belowground biodiversity. Overall, the study found that crop diversification could help the world meet the UN SDGs. OF THE WEEK


Crops are seen at a high tech urban vertical farm in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (REUTERS/Abdel Hadi Ramahi)


Seeking Emerging Leaders! Every year, the Council selects a class of approximately 20 participants with high potential from across Chicago's business, cultural, civic, and academic sectors and provides a robust expansive platform to deepen their fluency and exposure to global affairs and policy. Between the ages of 30 to 42, Emerging Leaders have a strong professional or personal interest in international affairs, a commitment to community engagement, and a thirst for knowledge. The Council will intentionally seek exceptional leaders who reflect the rich diversity of Chicago. This year's application is now open! If you have questions, attend one of our upcoming information sessions on November 9December 8January 13 February 11. COUNCIL EVENTS

VIRTUAL: Private Sector Responsibility on Race, Equity, and Inclusion- Part 3
Date: November 9
Time: 8 a.m. CT

LIVE STREAM: Emerging Leaders Program November Information Session 
Date: November 9 
Time: 5:30 p.m. CT ​​​​​​

LIVE STREAM: China Goes Green
Date: November 12
Time: 8 a.m. CT 

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


Bolivia Burning: Bolivia’s the government declared a state of disaster after fires devastated 2.7 million acres of agricultural areas in Eastern Bolivia. Indigenous peoples have been hit hard with the fires, the land burning is their source of medicinal plants, fruits, and food crops. Most of Bolivia’s fires are the result of human activity, fueled by rising deforestation and droughts linked to climate change.

Growing Up or Going Down? Vertical farming, in which crops are grown in tightly controlled indoor systems, has become more popular during the pandemic. While still largely unprofitable, investments in the industry are increasing. Despite vertical farming’s potential, it is only projected to be able to grow leafy greens, salad leaves and herbs, not replacing major staple crops.

Bird Flu Fears: Bird flu cases on poultry farms have been rising since the end of October in western Europe. France has put portions of the country on high alert for further cases, and chicken culls have been ordered in the UK and the Netherlands to limit the spread of infections. Despite the impact at poultry farms, the risk to public safety from the virus is very low. DIVE

Where did vertical farming come from? The idea of growing upwards to optimize production on a smaller footprint of land is relatively new. A 1999 medical ecology class in Columbia University’s School of Public Health came upon the idea of vertical farming to feed urban populations more efficiently than rooftop gardens. Throughout the following 21 years, vertical farming has found both enthusiasts and detractors—only time will tell which side is right. CRUNCH

5G Farmers: A new study from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) has found that agricultural producers in low- and middle-income countries are experiencing a widening schism between producers with greater technological access and those without – which 5G’s roll-out may exacerbate. The study highlights the significant link between farm size and mobile network services. Globally, 80 percent of farms over 200 hectares have access to 3G or 4G, while only 37 percent of farms under one hectare have network access.   


Opinion – Hunger on the Rise: The pandemic could push up to 135 million people all over the world into hunger by the end of this year. In the US, the specter of food insecurity looms particularly large in Washington state, where almost one third of the population could be affected in the next year. In our latest collaboration with Agri-Pulse, experts from McKinsey dive deep into key drivers of food insecurity and the challenges facing state and federal programs meant to address the issue.   


Pandemic Prevention: An intergovernmental panel has linked increasing risk of pandemics to increasing global meat consumption. Most emerging diseases are zoonoses – diseases caused by microbes of animal origin. Because of the potential for new diseases to arise through the meat production chain, the panel recommends reducing consumption from emerging disease hotspots and carefully evaluating globalized agricultural expansion.


Bacon Blocked: The United States suspended Thailand from participation in its Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program in response to Thailand’s failure to open its domestic pork market to American exports. The GSP program allows duty-free access to US markets for certain products, and the exclusion of Thailand is expected to affect $817 million in trade between the two nations. ACTORS 

India Responds to Protestors: Earlier this month, India passed legislation to deregulate agricultural trade. The reforms sparked protests due to the concerns that the government will stop buying crops from farmers under the new laws. In response, the Indian government bought 20 million tons of paddy rice in the past month, a 21 percent increase from last year. Most of the rice purchased is from the northern state of Punjab which has been the epicenter of protests.

China’s fishing in the World’s Waters:  To meet growing Chinese demands for seafood, which represents one-third of the world’s total, China is violating norms around sustainable fishing and sovereignty by overfishing off the Galapagos in Latin American waters and elsewhere around the world. Chinese ships vessels have entered exclusive economic zones of many countries, leading to illegal and unregulated fishing and harmful economic impacts. & COMMODITIES

Mexico Buys US Corn: Mexico has bought their largest volume of corn from the US since last December. This sale comes after farmers were unable to meet domestic demand following cuts to the agriculture ministry's budget. That budget, almost entirely eliminated, mostly provided subsidies to larger farms whose production accounted for two-thirds of the country’s domestic corn production.

Global Food Prices on the Rise: According to a new report from the FAO, global food prices have risen for the 5th consecutive month with the FAO food price index up 3.1 percent since September. Cereals, sugar, dairy, and vegetable oils led the price increase while meat prices declined, with Cereal and Sugar at the top, both due to shrinking exports. UPCOMING EVENTS

Seizing Opportunity from the Jaws of Crisis: A Playbook for Nutrition
Date: December 10
Time: 9:00 a.m. CT

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.