August 14, 2020 | By Julia Whiting

Global Food for Thought: Locust Pheromones | Vanilla | Labor Warms

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Pheromones to Fight Locusts

New research identified the pheromone in the migratory locust responsible for the swarms that can grow to include billions of locusts and reach hundreds of square miles. The pheromone called 4-vinylanisole (4VA) is produced when as little as four locusts congregate together, triggering swarm behavior. Scientists hope that the discovery will prompt new methods for suppressing locust swarms. If successful, it could provide a way forward to combat the desert locust as well, currently plaguing east Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia OF THE WEEK


Dried vanilla beans are pictured inside a basket at Kebon Kakek farm in Serang, Banten province, Indonesia. (REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan)


The Paradox of Hunger: How do we make sense of a world in which we produce record amounts of food, and yet people are hungry? Distinguished Fellow Ertharin Cousin points to the gap between sites of abundance and sites of scarcity—”where the food is grown is not necessarily where people are hungry,” she said in an interview recently aired on CGTN. The program also interviewed Senior Fellow Roger Thurow, who raised the clamor about the devastating lifelong effects of childhood malnutrition. Both Cousin and Thurow shared their personal experiences witnessing food security and shared the view that a hungry child anywhere should be a priority. COUNCIL EVENTS


LIVE STREAM: Idealist Lessons on American Leadership
Date: August 20
Time: 12:00 p.m. CDT

LIVE STREAM: Post-Pandemic Travel and Tourism
Date: August 24
Time: 10:00 a.m. CDT

LIVE STREAM: Resetting Global Supply Chains in a Post-Pandemic World
Date: August 26
Time: 12:00 p.m. CDT

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


Cocoa & Coffee Make a Comeback: Soft commodities such as cocoa, coffee, cotton, and sugar were hit hard in the early months of the pandemic, but their prices are now rising. Key producing countries such as Brazil and India have struggled with COVID-19, and buyers are anticipating future supply constraints.

Carbon Release: Carbon sequestration has grown in popularity amongst the agriculture community as a way for the sector to mitigate climate change. This will be harder as global temperatures rise—a new study has found that soils in the tropics could release 55 percent more carbon than soils in cooler regions. The tropics host one third of the world’s soil carbon and could be responsible for 65 billion metric tons of atmospheric carbon by 2100.

Vanilla’s Promise: Millennials in Indonesia are leaving the city for the land to grow vanilla, a highly profitable crop. Young farmers are learning from Youtube and Whatsapp, aiming for high quality over quantity.  McCormick & Co., the world’s largest spice company, has taken notice and partnered with vanilla farmers on the Indonesian islands of Papua and Sulawesi. DIVE

What is a soft commodity? Commodities are primary goods traded for processing into final goods. Primary goods that are mined or extracted, such as silver, crude oil, and natural gas are categorized as hard commodities. Soft commodities, by contrast, are grown—for example, cotton and sugar. Some traders differentiate between “softs” and other agricultural commodities, such as grain, oilseeds, dairy, and meat. CRUNCH

Seeds of Domestication: A new study finds evidence of ancient domestication of plants at a south China cave site. Researchers examined phytoliths, microscopic silica bodies that remains present even after plants have decayed, and have discovered that humans at the site had domesticated various plants at different periods in history, including bamboo, palm trees, and 16,000 year old Oryza, a genus of grass that includes wild rice.   


Leaving Labor Out: The majority of climate impact studies on agriculture have not considered how heat would affect farm workers, contends a new paper in Food Policy. Many researchers have modeled how higher temperatures will impact the yields of key staple crops, but this focus only accounts for 4 percent of the global economic value of farming. This has resulted in underestimates of the consequences of climate change.


Algae for Growth: Scientists at the University of Essex in the UK have successfully improved photosynthesis in tobacco plants, with the help of algae. Using gene manipulation, an enzyme in tobacco was increased, alongside introduction of an enzyme from cyanobacteria and a protein from algae. Researchers discovered a bonus benefit as well: the modified tobacco used much less water to produce higher yields.


International Food Security: USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS) released their annual report assessing international food security this week. ERS reviewed 76 LMICs and estimated that nearly 20 percent of the population, or 761 million people, are food insecure. Shocks from COVID-19 are projected to increase the food insecure population by over 83 million people. ACTORS 

Parasite Fighting Genes: The prestigious Royal Society Africa Prize was awarded to Professor Steven Runo of Kenyatta University in Kenya for his work creating parasitic resistant cereals using plant nutrients to kill parasites. His method includes using the nutrients the parasite consumes to create a poisonous variety that is then injected in the host crop to enable it to become defensive against parasite attacks. & COMMODITIES

Vertical Investment: Bayer is partnering with Temasek, a global investment company, to create and fund a new vertical farming venture, Unfold. Unfold will focus on developing seeds tailored to an indoor growing environment, an aspect of the industry which they contend has been underdeveloped. UPCOMING EVENTS

The Science of Scaling
Date: August 25
Time: 3 pm CEST 

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.