October 4, 2019

Global Food for Thought: Onion Shortage | Health Equity | Photosynthesis

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Beef with Beef:  

A new study is making waves in nutrition and agriculture. It finds that red meat consumption may not be as damaging to human health as previously thought. A meta-analysis of nutritional studies evaluated studies on more than 4 million people and found only low-certainty evidence of health risks. The study has drawn criticism from many health and nutrition experts but is being celebrated by others, with many fearing that the disagreements will confuse consumers.

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

A farmer sits on a tractor trolley after auctioning his onions in Maharashthra, India. (REUTERS/Rajendra Jadhav)

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

Renewing Their Vows: The FAO and the UN Environment Program renewed their partnership, outlining a plan to focus on themes such as sustainable food systems and agriculture biodiversity. The agencies also pledged to support UN member states in formulating and achieving more ambitious climate commitments.

Microinsurance on a Macro Scale: Pula, a Nairobi-based microinsurance company, is working with government agencies and loan providers to offer agricultural insurance to 1.7 million smallholder farmers in 10 African countries and India. Coverage is registered via a mobile app, which is helping to make crop insurance accessible to farmers who previously were left out of the market.


Hunger and Obesity: The Council has been exploring the topic of hunger & obesity with partner institutions and fellows, led by Catherine Bertini. Over the next few months we will feature selected papers to highlight this work. This project has been made possible through the generous support of the Rockefeller Foundation. The first paper argues that the integration of systems science into obesity prevention and a whole-of-community approach could turn the tide on obesity.

Agricultural Technology for Food Security:  How can technologies like drones and artificial intelligence be effective for enhancing yields and productivity of  smallholder farmers? The Council is proud to partner with the US Chamber of Commerce to answer that question and more at the first US – Africa Forum on Agricultural Technology on October 15, ahead of the annual Borlaug Dialogues.


Surviving the Blaze: Indonesian wildfires rage as a result of slash-and-burn farming, emitting large amounts of greenhouse gases and creating a public health crisis. Indonesia, like other developing nations, is struggling to combat land-clearing fires intended to expand farmland as global demand grows for products such as palm oil.

Need for Seed: African farmers' crop productivity is lagging behind much of the world’s. Modern hybrid seeds used in other regions are available but existing government policies have been ineffective in supplying farmers with these resources.

Onion Outcry: The Indian government has banned onion exports as the extended monsoon season continues to affect onion harvests and diminish supply. Countries across South Asia – which are dependent on Indian exports of the staple vegetable - are scrambling for alternative sources while consumers face soaring prices.

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

What makes onions irreplaceable? The Indian government’s ban on onion exports have many uncertain about how to replace their unique flavor that is central to so many dishes. An onion’s strong flavor comes from its defense mechanisms—an enzyme and sulfur-based chemicals that are only released when the onion is damaged, for example by chopping. Heating onions transforms these compounds, allowing the sweeter side of the plant to shine through.  

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

Genetically Modified Avocados: Researchers in the United States and Mexico have mapped the DNA sequence of a wide variety of avocados. This is a crucial first step in the development of genetically modified varieties that can resist disease and climate change, which has already disrupted the global avocado supply chain.


Relief Boosting Yields: Severe drought in Guatemala’s Dry Corridor has pushed out farmers in recent years. However, efforts by Catholic Relief Services to bring adaptable farming techniques to corn growers have begun to see results, with participants reporting 40 percent greater yields than their peers.

That’s a Lot of Trees: Irish officials announced a plan to plant 440 million trees over the next twenty years as part of an overall climate action plan and subsequent goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. Skeptics argue that portions of land should be left to naturally re-develop into forests rather than planting new trees.


Better Bred Sheep: Scientists in the United Kingdom are attempting to breed sheep that produce fewer greenhouse gases to help reduce the impact of agriculture on climate change. The Grass to Gas initiative has begun the first phase of this project – accurately predicting methane emissions from feed intake. Researchers hope to identify sheep with the smallest impact, which can then be selectively bred.

Funding Gap: A new report has found that of the 8000 investments in agriculture and food-tech startups between 2015-2018, only 3 percent of investment dollars and 7 percent of deals went to  female-founded startups. In spite of this funding gap, women-founded businesses have been found to be the fastest growing.


USAID Provides Humanitarian Assistance to Somalia: According to the latest estimates, Somalia has experienced their worst harvest in 25 years causing widespread, life threatening hunger. In response, USAID announced it will provide Mogadishu with an additional $257 million for humanitarian assistance. This assistance will help address hunger, acute malnutrition, provide safe water, emergency health care, education, and protection for those affected by ongoing conflict and recurrent drought.

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

Stable Staples: The FAO reports that world food prices were stable in September. A drop in sugar prices was balanced by a rise in vegetable oils and meat. Cereal prices remain largely unchanged, despite the FAO lowering their estimate of global cereal production in 2019.

Wine and Cheese Woes: The WTO ruled in favor of the United States in a long dispute between the European Union and the United States over Airbus subsidies. As part of the decision, the United States plans to impose tariffs on a variety of European agricultural products, including cheese, olives, and wine. Tariffs could be as high as 25 percent. 

https://www.thechicagocouncil.org/sites/default/files/calendar_icon.pngUPCOMING EVENTS
Global Science Conference on Climate-Smart Agriculture
Date: October 8-10
Location: Bali, Indonesia

US-Africa Forum on Agricultural Technology
Date: October 15
Location: Des Moines, Iowa

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

Smart Urban Food Systems Summit
Date: November 4-5
Location: Brooklyn, New York

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. 

| 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.