April 17, 2020

Global Food for Thought: Fruit Flies | Rice ATM | Rations Cut

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For Nations Under Lockdown in Africa, Food Concerns Grow

Before the novel coronavirus pandemic, nearly one quarter of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa was under nourished. The locusts swarms in East Africa have already created a food crisis for one million Ethiopians. A second, far larger wave with far worse consequences is predicted to coincide with the harvest season. Flight restrictions due to the virus have made it harder to get pesticides to the continent to fight the pests, but national lockdowns have brought more immediate food supply concerns. 

Farmers are unable to reach markets in at least 33 countries. In Zimbabwe, police confiscated and burned three tons of fruits and vegetables from farmers who had broken movement restrictions. Millions of children now out of school are missing out on the meals served there. With 85 percent of the population employed in the informal sector, many are left without savings to get them through lockdowns. Extended duress makes people desperate, and with frightening consequences—a food distribution in Nairobi turned into a stampede this week. Experts from the FAO and World Food Programme (WFP) warn that time is running out for concerted, urgent effort, to prevent famine.

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

Workers of the Team Pankaj aid group load a truck with boxes with food donations to be distributed for people in need in the capital's poorest neighbourhoods, in Nairobi, Kenya. (REUTERS/Baz Ratner)


Plant Disease, America’s Oxymoron, Cowpeas, and Hope: The current pandemic has revealed one of the US’s deep and often hidden contradictions: prevalent hunger in a land of abundance. Roger Thurow writes about the ways in which crisis shows America’s food insecurity. Also this week, the 2Blades Foundation shared a warning that the next pandemic could attack our crops, with devastating results. The point is especially salient as a bacterial disease is threatening Europe’s olive oil production. In Field Notes, the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Legumes Systems Research explains why they take a systems approach to implement scalable projects for improved livelihood and nutrition. It is a story of hope, which compliments a post from Non-Resident Fellow Alesha Miller this week. Amidst the fear and dire stories we are told, Miller writes about seven durable, hopeful things she sees in the US food system. 

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

LIVE STREAM: WHO COVID-19 Special Envoy David Nabarro, MD, on Lessons in Leadership
Date: April 20
Time: 10 am CT

LIVE STREAM: Anne-Marie Slaughter on Leadership and the COVID-19 Response
Date: April 22
Time: 3 pm CT

LIVE STREAM: Avoiding a Looming Food Crisis
Date: April 24
Time: 9 am CT

LIVE STREAM: Protecting the US Political System from Pandemic Threats
Date: May 11
Time: 1 pm CT

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


Shoo, Fly: Fruit fly presence has been steadily increasing in Kenya, likely due to rising temperatures from climate change. Areas with fruit-fly infestations are losing half of their crops each year to the bugs, costing farmers an estimated $472 million. A number of methods to control the flies have been attempted including pesticides and covering fruit with plastic bags.  

In Search of Labor: A number of European countries have increased their calls for support in their agricultural industries’ labor shortage. Spain has already announced that it will allow undocumented immigrants in farm jobs, and Germany will allow 80 thousand seasonal workers to enter the country despite the closed borders. Other countries are making similar provisions in order to accommodate for the losses of immigrant seasonal workers.  

Rural Restrictions Eased: India and Pakistan will begin to ease restrictions on rural industries, including farming, in order to support their struggling economies. As agriculture is a leading employer for both countries, the move will support combating the widespread losses of income caused by national lockdowns.

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

The Persistence of Fruit Flies: Drosophila melanogaster, the fruit fly, has antennae that can pick up on food over a kilometer away. A female can lay up to 100 eggs at a time, which will hatch within 24 hours, virtually ensuring infestation. Yet fruit flies can be useful. Their quick breeding cycles allow for multi-generational study in the course of a month. The insects also bear enough structural similarities to mammals to have been used in research on the International Space Station.     

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

Short-term Gains, Long-term Pains: The use of plastic-film mulch to boost crop productivity was previously a common practice in agriculture, especially in China. However, a new study released by researchers at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences and the University of Melbourne concluded that while the mulch improves crop yield for one year, after the first year it harms soil properties and plant health. China alone has an estimated 550,000 tons of plastic residue remaining in its soil. 


Don’t forget your PIN: The creation of a rice ATM is one unique response to supporting the increased numbers of people currently living food insecure. The ATM was developed by an entrepreneur in Ho Chi Minh City and dispenses free rice for those out of work during Vietnam’s country wide shut down. Similar ATMs have been set up in other major cities around the country.  

A Return to Tradition: Many indigenous communities in the US are isolated, lack basic utilities such as running water, and have limited food access. These conditions are being exacerbated by the coronavirus emergency. To cope, many are turning to traditional methods of growing and preserving food. From indigenous seed sales to canned beets and dried corn, communities are working to ensure resilience.


A Cool Connection: An Oregon based ice cream company has started a new partnership with the Water, Agroforestry, Nutrition, and Development Foundation aimed at supporting the women farmers in the Philippines who supply the coconuts for the ice cream.  The initiative will encourage the farmers to create goods from the coconut byproducts in order to increase their sources of income to support them and their families.  

Faster Fibers: A Boston based startup has developed a process for growing cotton that is 10 times faster than growing traditional cotton, as well as more sustainable. The company, Galy, grows the cotton from stem cells of other cotton plants, which takes only 18 days to grow cotton fibers. Additionally, the plants use 80 percent less water and have less greenhouse gas emissions compared to traditionally grown cotton. 


Ag Aid Coming: USDA will reveal approximately $15.5 billion of the total $23.5 billion in US farm aid from the COVID-19 stimulus package this week, including direct payments to farmers and ranchers. A second phase of funding will follow later this year. The Administration has considered other options to assist the US agriculture sector during this pandemic, including lowering farmworker pay for foreign guest workers to decrease costs for American farmers. 

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

Climate Plans: The Chilean government has published an updated national climate change plan in response to COVID-19. The plan changes are focused around using the time after the crisis to implement more sustainable measures during the economic recovery. Such changes include cutting emissions due to deforestation by 25 percent by the end of the decade. 

Food Aid Cut: Citing lack of funding, the WFP has cut food rations to 1.4 million refugees in Uganda. More reductions could follow the initial 30 percent cut. For the asylum seekers from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Burundi, the COVID-19 crisis means a greater risk of malnutrition. 

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

Asparagus on Sale: Significant decreases in the price of asparagus is one indication of the current difficulties being faced in global agriculture. The price decrease can be attributed to lower demand in Asia due to decreased economic activity, which has led to a surplus of asparagus in the United States and thus the lower prices.  

Farm Imports Up: Chinese imports of US farm products in the first three months of the year were up 110 percent from last year. Notably, soybean imports were up 210 percent from last year and pork imports were up 640 percent. 

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

Food Talk Live: Maximo Torero
Date: April 17 
Time: 12 pm CT

FAO Insights: Anna Lartey on FAO Food and Nutrition Systems
Date: April 23
Time: 9 am CT

Improving prenatal nutrition:  Making the case for multiple micronutrient supplements
Date: April 28
Time: 9 am 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.


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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

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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.