May 8, 2020

Global Food for Thought: Innovation in Crisis | Sugar Challenges | Meat Alternatives

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An Appeal for Funds

The UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, called for the world's wealthiest countries to provide $90 billion dollars to protect the world's most vulnerable people. While it may seem like a big number, it is in fact just one percent of the collective stimulus funds that the world's richest nations have already poured into shoring up the global economy.

The consequences of inaction include the World Food Programme's recent warning that the number of people in the world experiencing a food crisis could double this year. The beginnings of expanding food insecurity are already visible, from the 9 million South African children now missing out on meals from school feeding programs, to farmers facing the locust swarms and COVID-19 simultaneously. OF THE WEEK

Children queue for food at a school feeding scheme during a nationwide lockdown aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Blue Downs township near Cape Town, South Africa. (REUTERS/Mike Hutchings)


Innovation and Leadership: Due to the pandemic, school closures in countries that implement World Food Programme (WFP) school feeding schemes have left nearly 12 million children without school lunches. How is the WFP innovating in the crisis to ensure that children are fed? Head of the WFP Innovation Accelerator, Bernhard Kowatsch, explains how the WFP is finding new ways to reach people in our latest collaboration with Agri-Pulse. The Council is pleased to announce a new virtual event series, Lessons in Leadership, in which Distinguished Fellow and former Executive Director of the WFP, Catherine Bertini, speaks with leaders and gains their insights and perspectives on what makes effective leadership. Register for Wednesday, May 13’s livestream with Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark. COUNCIL EVENTS

LIVE STREAM: Recent Developments on the Korean Peninsula
Date: May 8
Time: 2 pm CT

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

LIVE STREAM: Playing Fair by Embracing Gender Equity in Sport
Date: May 12
Time: 11 am CT

LIVE STREAM: Former New Zealand Prime Minister Clark on Multilateralism and COVID-19
Date: May 13
Time: 5 pm CT

LIVE STREAM: The Global Resurgence of Antisemitism
Date: May 19
Time: 2:15 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. 


Dry Times: Indonesia, which is a world leader in palm oil and coffee production, is currently weathering an abnormally dry season. It is estimated that almost one third of the country’s agriculture regions will be drier than usual, which could result in both food instability and price increases.   

Sugar Mills Continue: In an attempt to support the struggling economy, many of Cuba’s sugar mills have remained open despite the country’s partial lock down. Cuba's economy typically relies heavily on tourism and remittances, which have recently been greatly restricted and reduced. The government has responded by redirecting funds with increased focus on agriculture, mainly sugar and nickel, with the hope of increasing exports.  

Coffee Slump: Coffee supply chains around South America are greatly disrupted due to a variety of factors including skilled labor shortages for the harvest. While the harvest of the coffee has largely been completed, processing and export have been held up, resulting in poorer coffee quality and less financial security for farmers. DIVE

How much sugar does Cuba produce? Last year, Cuba produced 1.3 million metric tons of sugar. This was the lowest of the nation's annual outputs in more than a century. While that pales in comparison to 1920's output of more than 5 million tons or 1991's 8 million ton output, 1.3 million metric tons is difficult to visualize. To help you imagine it, we calculated that it is enough raw sugar to fill approximately 185,715 large commercial dump trucks. Unfortunately, we don't know how to help you imagine almost 200,000 dump trucks. CRUNCH

Waste Solutions: ReFED, an organization using data driven research to combat food waste, has created a COVID-19 Food Waste Solution Fund to provide funding to initiatives aimed at creating solutions for the current excess of food waste caused by the pandemic. The organization focuses on food waste at the farm and supply chain levels, as well as refocusing food to food-insecure communities.     


Olives Under Attack: A bacterium, xylella fastidiosa, has killed millions of olive trees around Italy in recent years, and is now threatening other olive producing countries in Southern Europe. A recent study projects the bacteria could lead to $22 billion in losses to the olive oil market over the next 50 years should the bacteria spread. There is currently no cure for the bacterium, and current strategies to combat its spread, such as isolating infected trees, have been largely ineffective.  


Arid Innovation: A new indoor farm has opened in Kuwait, hoping to provide the arid country with year-round salad. &ever, a vertical farming company, is utilizing a system of dryponics, in which the roots of the plants are kept dry. The plants are also unique in that they don’t need to be washed and can be harvested right before they are eaten to maximize nutritional quality.  


Encouraging Urban Agriculture: USDA's new Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production, established in the 2018 Farm Bill and funded at the end of 2019, announced new competitive grants to support stakeholders in urban and suburban areas. The new office focuses on rooftop, community, and other urban gardens and farms; food systems education; and pilot projects to increase composting and decrease food waste, among other emerging forms of production that have sustainable potential. ACTORS 

Opinion: Strengthening the Chain: Those most vulnerable to hunger in the world have been placed in an even more precarious position in the pandemic. In response to the threat of growing hunger, Tony Blair and Agnes Kalibata argue that four steps must be taken globally: increasing food-relief funding, investing in local agricultural production, supporting regional and local logistical hubs, and incentivizing private sector investment in agroprocessing. & COMMODITIES

Seeking Alternatives: Meat alternative sales have increased drastically in recent months—the last week of March saw a 255 percent increase from the same time frame in 2019, far outpacing normal meat sales. Due to recent concerns of food safety, alternative meat may appeal as a safer option compared to traditional meat to consumers. Also, as meat processing plant shutdowns drive up the price of meat, plant-based alternatives are becoming more competitively priced.  

Sugar Crash: The FAO Food Price Index shows world food prices falling in April for the third consecutive month. Sugar prices hit a 13-year low after a 14.6 percent drop. The price of rice, however, has risen 7.2 percent from March. Wheat prices rose as well, although the price of maize dropped precipitously. UPCOMING EVENTS

Atlantic Council- A Warning from the World Food Programme
Date: May 8
Time: 1 pm ET

Food Loss and Waste – Can we end it by 2030 while dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic? 
Date: May 12
Time: 9 am ET

Synergies and Tradeoffs in Sustainable Ag
Date: May12
Time: 10 am ET

Gender Data Series: Mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on Women and Girls
Date: May 12
Time: 11 am ET

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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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.