October 23, 2020 | By Julia Whiting

Global Food for Thought: Groundwater | Child Labor | Agricultural Transformations

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Drought solutions underground? 

Precipitation variability and drought are increasing due to climate change. In Nepal, an exceptionally dry season has forced farmers to break COVID-19 travel bans and seek work in India. Few farmers have access to irrigation, but those that do have found that the water table has dropped. Their struggles are shared by farmers around the world, including those in southern Morocco who are in a second consecutive drought year. With local reservoirs now dry, Moroccan farmers worry that digging wells—an expensive undertaking—may not provide enough water. This, too, is part of a larger problem: too little is known about groundwater reserves. These reserves make up almost one third of the planet’s freshwater, yet information is scarce in some areas, and not appropriately shared in others. Better mapping and management of groundwater could provide farmers with a sense of security as climate challenges intensify. 

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


A farmer holds a sorghum plant destroyed after a swarm of locusts invaded his farm in Jawaha village near Kamise town Amhara region, Ethiopia. (REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri) 


Our New Gordian Knot: The Nobel Committee praised Norman Borlaug for cutting the “Gordian knot” and solving the problem of producing enough food for a growing population. 50 years later, Senior Fellow Roger Thurow contends that we are facing a new Gordian knot--  ”the new fear is not that we will run out of food, but that we are dooming ourselves and our planet by the way we grow food,” he writes in his latest post. Thurow shares insights from Ethiopian farmers who have found a way to heal their land while feeding their community.    

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


VIRTUAL: 2020 Global Leadership Awards 
Date: October 28 
Time: 5 p.m. CT 

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


Cocoa Farms and Child Labor: The use of child labor and prevalence of children doing hazardous work has risen in cocoa farms in Ghana and Ivory Coast during the past decade, according to a new report. This rise has occurred despite numerous efforts made by governments, industry, and key stakeholders. Meanwhile, the corresponding levels for hazardous work rose from 30 percent to 43 percent. 

Locusts Continue: East Africa has been devastated by desert locusts, and Ethiopia is now experiencing the worst of it. Since January, the insects have damaged an estimated 490,000 acres of land, threatening food supplies for the region. Scientists have made strides understanding locust behavior but will have limited effect without resources and government coordination. 

Back to our roots: Mantasa, an Indonesian research institute, is working to promote native wild plants to combat diet-related illnesses. Part of their work is debunking stigma that has been attached to indigenous foodways. Additionally, Mantasa has faced pushback from local governments that do not see commercial significance in the plants promoted.   

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

Where are they now? News stories about desert locusts are less frequent than earlier in 2020, but the insects aren’t done yet. Swarms are most active and dangerous in Ethiopia, Somalia, and Yemen. The locust situation is serious in Sudan and Eritrea as well. Pakistan, seriously plagued last year, recently declared itself locust-free. Neighboring India is over the worst as well, concerns over anti-locust pesticides’ long-term effects remain.  

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

A Return to Stats: Agriculture’s contribution to global GDP increased by 68 percent between 2000-2018, the FAO 2020 Statistical Yearbook finds. The publication has returned, revamped, for the organization’s 75th anniversary. The Yearbook presents statistics in four thematic chapters, which include the economic and environmental impacts of agriculture.     


Production in Spite of Past: South Africa’s Eastern Cape holds agricultural promise, but the province’s farmers face an uphill battle towards greater productivity. Apartheid holdovers, including poor infrastructure, unequal land distribution, and lack of access to clear land titles hamper regional farm production. Local grassroots leaders are working with traditional authorities in the province, an approach seemingly at odds with national-level politics.    


Equity is a Necessity: The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the urgent need for strong agricultural research. Yet women researchers are less able to do their work, as they juggle increased burdens at home. To achieve global food security, institutions must become more gender responsive. This includes flexible arrangements which allow for researchers to continue their critical work. 


USDA Pushes Back on EU Rules: Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue raised the possibility of filing a WTO case against the European Union over Europe’s new “farm to fork” rules. These rules are intended to incentivize sustainable farming practices and strengthen consumers’ ability to trace the origins of their food, but they could serve as significant barriers to American farmers hoping to export their crops to Europe. 

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

Transformation Attempts: Somewhere between 15-30 million smallholder farmers produce 95 percent of Nigeria’s farm output. For a nation that imports around $3 billion in food staples annually, many are focusing on increasing domestic production. One company is aggregating continuous plots to bulk purchase inputs, while an agricultural investor looks to Brazil for inspiration. 

SEE ALSO: Nigeria's farmers receive $20 million in crop aid 

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

Corn Rush: China needs about 280 million metric tons of corn per year and is expected to issue new low-tariff import quotas to meet demand. China has already matched Japan for second-largest corn imports in 2020-21, behind Mexico. The expanded quotas may be good news for US farmers; US soybeans are seeing record sales, but corn has yet to match pace.   

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

Building climate resilient food systems based on the 10 Agroecology elements
Date: October 27

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.