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Starting Friday, September 6, Global Food for Thought will be taking a brief hiatus, even if the news won’t. We’ll be back with the latest buzz on food, agriculture, and global development on Friday, September 27. Until then, please share any suggestions you may have on what we can do better.
Bananas Are Under Threat:
Fusarium, a banana fungus that devastates crops in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, has spread in Colombia. Fusarium cannot be contained by fungicides, stays in soils for up to 30 years, and can be transmitted via tires, boots, or clothes. The disease affects the Cavendish banana variety, which accounts for 95 percent of world exports. Bananas are a major revenue source for many Latin American countries, and the region produces two-thirds of the global supply.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
A customer picks bananas in Redhill, Britain. (REUTERS/Peter Nicholls)
Farmer Suicide: An organization in Punjab, India, is working to provide financial support for widows and build a community network to reduce farmer suicide rates. National rates of death by suicide among farmers have been rising due to poor agricultural productivity, expensive inputs, and significant debt. It is estimated that 16,000 farmers in India die by suicide per year.
Health Alarm: The FAO found that from 2016-2018, 21 percent of Venezuela’s population was undernourished due to the country’s ongoing food crisis. Protein and vegetables are inaccessible for most people. Chronic undernourishment can lead to severe long-term health problems, particularly for children, and UNICEF estimates that 3.2 million children in Venezuela currently require aid.
More Than Leaning In: In recent years, more attention has been given to the important role women play in ensuring global food security. One critical aspect of empowering women in agriculture is supporting their education and research in the sciences. A review of the recent Global Forum for Women in Science Education and Research reveals key elements to ensuring that women are successful in universities and research institutions. Intentional, institutional change, as well as thoughtful funding decisions and an intersectional approach are necessary to increasing the ranks of women in science and bolstering global food security.
FOOD AND AGRICULTURAL ISSUES
Coffee Dominance: Lows in coffee prices are increasing Brazil and Vietnam’s dominance in the global market. The two countries account for over half of the global supply, with Brazil making up over a third of production. Increased mechanization and adoption of innovative farming techniques have contributed to the two nations’ production boom.
Fungus isn’t Fun: A growing body of research is linking a class of common agricultural fungicides to anti-fungal resistance in strains that affect human health. Agricultural fungicides can protect vineyards, fruits, cereals, and vegetables, and are considered indispensable by some. Researchers are developing alternative products that will protect public health.
International Food Security Projections: The USDA has released its annual International Food Security Assessment, which projects that food insecurity in 76 low- and middle-income countries will fall nearly 10 percentage points by 2029. Regional disparities are expected to grow, however, due to natural disasters and disrupted agricultural activities.
Most Bananas are Clones: The dominance of the Cavendish banana is a relatively recent phenomenon. The Gros Michel banana variety was most commonly exported until the 1950s, when an early Fusarium strained devastated global banana plantations. The Cavendish was adopted due to its resistance to this strain. The popularity of Cavendish is in part due to its seedlessness. In the absence of seeds these bananas are asexually propagated, meaning that most commercial bananas are nearly genetically identical and lack genetic resilience.
Climate Literacy: A recent survey spanning 34 African countries found that more than two-thirds of respondents believe climate conditions for agriculture have worsened over the past decade. However, those most affected by climate change—including agricultural workers, women, and the poor—are less familiar with it. Improving awareness among those with little knowledge will make government policies to fight food insecurity, water scarcity, and climate change more successful.
Possible Locust Solution: Locusts - a threat to food security for centuries - continue wreak havoc in Yemen and at the Indo-Pakistan border. Scientists studying human interventions to limit locust damage at the Arizona State University Global Locust Initiative have found that locusts crave carbohydrates. If farmers grow crops that are low in carbohydrates, locusts may avoid them.
Swine Fever Vaccine: Global efforts to develop an African swine fever vaccine have intensified. Typically, vaccines deliver a dead version of the virus, but this approach has been ineffective with African swine fever. Researchers want to develop a vaccine with a weakened version of the virus. China and the United States are both experimenting with gene editing, while Vietnam claims it is already testing a vaccine.
Greenhouses for Less Green: The nonprofit Kheyti is helping smallholder farmers in Hyderabad, India, purchase affordable greenhouses to reduce climate and distribution-based risks. Pilot studies have seen farmers grow seven times more food, using 90 percent less water than traditional farming methods. Kheyti provides farmers with seeds, fertilizer, education, and cell phones to troubleshoot issues as they arise.
Quality and Quantity: The World Bank has used new data to find that water quality is a looming threat for global health and food security. This “Invisible Water Crisis” afflicts developed and developing countries alike. The report traces some crop damage and childhood stunting to water contamination.
Biofuel Waiver Causes Tension: The Administration recently waived some biofuel requirements for 31 oil refineries. Multiple agricultural trade organizations have written letters to the White House explaining how this harms the biofuel industry and farmers. After historic flooding and the trade war, corn and soy growers worry that this will further hurt US agriculture.
TRADE & COMMODITIES
Boosting Trade Ties: Argentina is accepting bids to dredge the Parana River, which carries 80 percent of Argentina’s agricultural exports to international trade routes in the Atlantic Ocean. Hoping to increase trade ties between Argentina and China, the largest consumer of Argentinian soybeans, a Chinese state-owned construction company is preparing a bid for the dredging contract.
Non-Dairy Milk is Mooving Up: The global dairy-alternative market was estimated to be worth $11.9 billion in 2017, and plant-based dairy products are getting better returns than traditional dairy. In response to declining sales, the dairy industry has been actively campaigning against dairy-alternative products and is attempting to preserve terms like “milk” or “butter” for milk-based products.
Global Food Innovation Summit
Date: September 3-5
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Aid & International Development Forum Global Summit
Date: September 4
Location: Washington, DC
Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium
Date: October 16-18
Location: Des Moines, Iowa
CGIAR Big Data in Agriculture Convention
Date: October 16-18
Location: Hyderabad, India
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