March 6, 2020

Global Food for Thought: Food Prices | Disaggregated Data | Wild Barley

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Food Prices Fall and Markets in Flux

After months of increases, world food prices fell in February. The FAO food price index, a monthly measure of the price of certain foodstuffs, indicates that the drop has varied causes. A 10.3 percent drop in vegetable oil prices, along with declines in cereal and meat prices, contributed. COVID-19 is believed to be partly to blame, as fears of a slowdown in global demand suppress prices and disrupt trade. Additionally, delays at Chinese ports have affected commodity shipping. The trade slowdowns have caused a ballooning of Chinese soybean oil stocks to 30 percent above seasonal average. With spring planting just weeks away, China’s central government is allowing a return to double cropping of rice to encourage production. This action is in part due to the fact that Hubei province, the COVID-19 outbreak epicenter under the strictest lockdown, accounted for nearly 10 percent of China’s rice crop last year. OF THE WEEK

Samburu men look at a swarm of newly hatched desert locusts on a tree near the town of Archers Post, Samburu County, Kenya. (REUTERS/Baz Ratner) ACTORS 

Investing in the DRC: The German government has announced a $54 million contribution to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The funds are aimed at building resilience in the DRC through a program mainly targeting smallholder farmers. Despite the DRC’s large area of cultivable land, the land’s use has historically not been maximized and the DRC has remained one of the world’s poorest countries, a statistic these funds are hoping to change.

Filling the Gap: Zambia’s African Green Resources (AGR) agribusiness launched a $81 million financing project that is targeted at 120 commercial farmers and 250,000 small and medium holders. With help from the African Development Bank, the fund will supply inputs and technology in exchange for grain – thereby servicing growers’ credit and market needs. 


Brokering Research, Post-Harvest Loss, and Food Safety: This week's Field Notes feature a piece from the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Crops (ICRISAT) and two from Feed the Future Innovation Labs, the Innovation Lab for Fish and the Food Safety Innovation Lab. ICRISAT, part of the CGIAR system, highlights the need for brokering innovation and research, alongside work in the lab. By increasing farmer capacity and bringing together available capabilities, food security is strengthened. The Innovation Lab for Fish points to reduction of post-harvest loss in Nigerian aquaculture as a way forward. Meanwhile, the Food Safety Innovation Lab introduces its portfolio, which includes training materials for smallholder women dairy farmers in Ethiopia and analyzing regulatory frameworks in Bangladesh. 


Wild Grains: Incorporation of wild barley genes into commercial barley crops is being used to enhance the crucial crop’s ability to fight climate change. Barley is grown widely in drylands due to its ability to withstand harsh conditions, and wild barley can withstand even desert like conditions. New commercial plants derived from wild barely saw 10-15 percent yield increases compared to other commercial barley strains.

Model Prevention: Scientists are using a supercomputer to model where locusts in Eastern Africa will breed, in the hopes of preventing a second surge of the infestation. The model has predicted swarm locations with 90 percent accuracy. Any eggs laid in the last month will mature with the cropping season, making early intervention critical.   
SEE ALSO: UN Raises Additional $18 million in Locust Fight
Technological Progress and Gender Inequality: Despite carrying out an estimated 60-75 percent of all farming related work, rural women in India own only 13.9 percent of landholdings. Simultaneously, increased mechanization may be pushing more women out of the field and back into the home. State governments are creating sex-disaggregated databases that are not linked to land ownership to gain a more complete picture of the agricultural sector. DIVE

What are sex-disaggregated data? Data that are collected separately on men and women. It is especially important in the agricultural sector, in which the roles of men and women often differ. Without separating data based on sex and other demographic categories, researchers and policymakers end up with an incomplete understanding of rural livelihoods and production. CRUNCH

Quality Control: A Boston-based food data company has developed a new guide for helping consumers make better choices with their produce. The TeakOrigin Guide shows the nutritional content, quality, and value of popular fruits and vegetables. The company used analytical chemistry, optical spectroscopy, and machine learning in order to analyze thousands of produce samples to better inform consumers on the quality foods.


Crop Prospects: Inadequate rainfall has led the FAO to add Namibia and Tanzania to their list of countries needing external food assistance. The FAO’s quarterly Crop Prospects and Food Situation report also includes information on the desert locust situation in East Africa as well as 2020 production outlooks for crops like wheat and cereal, which appear favorable.

Sacred Reservoir: A pair of agricultural engineers in Peru are using age-old rainwater harvesting methods to revitalize water sources wrecked by shrinking glaciers and falling water-tables. The Machaca sisters build mountaintop reservoirs that cultivate water during the rainy season and then use it to recharge rivers and aquifers used by farmers and residents during the dry months


Opinion- Millennium Challenge Corporation a Gem: While most think of USAID as the primary engine of US international agricultural assistance, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) is a lesser-known development engine. It uses data-driven approaches to engage the private sector in global development. In partnership with IFPRI, the MCC’s “AgReboot” will enhance its collaboration with the private sector to build global food security.

Paradigm Shift: The OECD estimates that more than 80 percent of the world’s poorest people could live in fragile contexts by 2030. World Vision, an NGO involved in Africa, argues that the emergence of unique 21st century problems requires development aid and assistance models to be updated for a fragility-to-resilience approach. Experts from national governments and NGOs suggest this reframing will allow for better management of climate-change risks and long-term food security.


Increased Inspections: President Trump signed a bipartisan measure addressing the shortage of agricultural inspectors into law on Tuesday. The legislation, led by Senators Roberts, Peters, Stabenow, and Cornyn, seeks to ensure the safe trade of food and agriculture by authorizing the hire of hundreds of additional agriculture specialists and technicians. Supporters say that the law will also prevent the entrance of invasive species and foreign animal diseases into American food and agriculture chains. & COMMODITIES

Opinion: An Avocado Boycott Won't Stop Cartels: Skyrocketing demand in the US for avocados has led to a dramatic increase in exports from Mexico. As the fruit becomes more valuable, the "green gold" and those who produce them have come under attack from cartels seeking a piece of the profit. But a boycott may only hurt the farmers who have benefitted from the boom in trade. EVENTS
Interdrought 2020
Date: 9-13 March
Location: Mexico City, Mexico

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

Food Talk Live
Date: 30 March
Location: Chicago, IL

Forum on the Future of Agriculture
Date: 31 March
Location: Brussels, Belgium

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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.