January 3, 2020

Global Food for Thought: Microplastic | Breadfruit | Peak Meat

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A New Year (and Decade) for Food Security

The world is facing a serious set of challenges for the next decade. There are ten years left to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, many of which will not be met without ramping up current efforts. Food insecurity rose globally over the last year, and many aid agencies are focusing on tackling two major challenges that can also fight hunger: violence against women and climate change.

The past year saw more extreme weather events linked to climate change in a decade marked by heat, floods, and droughts. These are predicted to intensify in number and strength in the coming decade. Investing in building resilient agricultural communities before climate shocks occur can go a long way towards preventing crises. Actions taken in 2020 can set the world up for a decade of progress—or raise the stakes in the future. 

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

The average human will consume 250 grams of plastic per year, shown on a dinner plate here. (REUTERS)

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

Food Aid for Zimbabwe in Jeopardy: The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that the food aid it provides to Zimbabwe could run out by the end of February. According to the agency, firm pledges of international support are lacking. Prolonged drought, Cyclone Idai, and runaway inflation due to economic crisis have many fearing famine. Patchy rains have led the WFP to predict a poor harvest in the coming year, compounding fears.


Addressing the Double Burden of Malnutrition: The number of hungry people and overweight people in the world is now roughly equal, often in close proximity to each other. Council distinguished fellow Ertharin Cousin says that funding and supporting farmers is a step in the right direction. Senior Fellow Roger Thurow calls for a focus on vegetables to improve nutrition.  
SEE ALSO: The Chicago Council is one of Food Tank’s 120 Organizations Creating a New Decade for Food


A Plateful of Plastic: Microplastics—pieces of plastic smaller than sesame seeds—have been found in Arctic ice and the depths of the ocean. Just how much are you consuming? A visualization of average microplastic consumption seeks to explain the scope of the problem. For example, over ten years, the average person consumes microplastics the equivalent of a standard life buoy.

Bringing Big and Small Farms Together: With a pig herd 40 percent smaller than a year ago, China is trying a new strategy to boost pork production. Large pig farms are partnering with small, rural farms to jointly raise pigs. The investment of almost $7.14 billion is meant to help small farms, which supply almost half of the nation’s pork.  

Celebratory Sustainability: Some of the most famous Champagne houses—responsible for Cristal and Dom Perignon—are turning to sustainable growing practices such as biodynamic farming in their fields. For these winemakers, the switch has as much to do with quality of the grapes as the environment.

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

What is biodynamic farming? A series of lectures by Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s introduced the concept of biodynamic farming. The approach looks at farms holistically, seeking to minimize external inputs by creating a closed loop system adapted to a farm’s particular location. The practice takes phases of the moon into account as well, contributing to its somewhat esoteric reputation. 

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

Tailoring Tech Solutions: Agritech is more advanced than ever, but inaccessible to many southeast Asian farmers. A new crop of startups is seeking to make agritech more affordable by tailoring solutions to regional needs. From on-demand equipment renting to peer-to-peer lending, these startups are attracting increased investment.   


Bird Flu in Poland: Poland, Europe’s largest poultry producer, is reacting swiftly to an outbreak of bird flu. At least 25,000 turkeys have died from the disease, and up to 40,000 poultry will be culled to prevent further infection. A highly pathogenic strain of the virus is responsible, and although it could threaten people, no cases have been reported to date.

Predicted Water Shortages: March will bring water shortages to Thailand, according to government officials. Insufficient rain coupled with upstream dams on the Mekong River are seen as the main culprits. With more droughts likely as the climate becomes more variable, conservationists are worried for the river’s ecosystem.


Bread(fruit) for the World: Caribbean nations are increasingly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, putting food security at risk. One project is seeking to address this issue with breadfruit trees. The plants can grow in most soil conditions and produces high yields of high-fiber, vitamin rich food with little maintenance. Several thousand trees have been planted already and could provide up to 1,320 tons of free food by 2022.

A Shaky Future for Meat: Meat alternatives have blossomed in 2019, provoking heated debate and even legislation. Beef and pork consumption stopped growing in the United States and Europe, and although the United States is predicted to hit peak meat consumption in 2020, this is expected to plateau in coming years. Whether the globe is reaching “peak meat” or not is still a question open for debate.


Setting a Date for a Deal: President Trump has announced that he will sign Phase One of a trade deal with China on January 15. Although neither side has confirmed the exact language of the agreement, White House officials have stated that the agreement will increase Chinese imports of US agricultural products

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

Crops Approved for Import: The United States is the world’s largest producer of genetically modified (GM) crops, and two more have been approved for import by China. The approval of the soybean and papaya varieties, along with renewal of import permits for ten other GM crops, is seen as evidence of progress in trade talks between China and the United States.  

Cocoa Prices Cause Concern: The price of cocoa reached an 18-month high in November, in part because of laws requiring a living wage for farmers. While higher prices seem like good news for farmers, many fear that it will lead to over production. This would flood the market and depress prices, negating any benefits from recent efforts to raise farmers’ incomes.

 https://www.thechicagocouncil.org/sites/default/files/calendar_icon.pngUPCOMING EVENTS
Global Forum for Food and Agriculture
Date: 16-18 January
Location: Berlin, Germany

​​​​American Farm Bureau Federation Convention & Trade Show
Date: 17-22 January
Location: Austin, Texas
Edible Institute

Date: 25-26 January
Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico

Trust in Food Symposium
Date: 29-30 January
Location: Chicago, IL

Interdrought 2020
Date: 9-13 March
Location: Mexico City, Mexico

Global Food Security Symposium
Date: 26 March
Location: Washington, DC

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.