February 14, 2020

Global Food for Thought: Pulses | Breaking Ground | Satellites and Drones

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Food Waste Underestimated

Many are familiar with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) statistic that one third of the world's food is lost or wasted. In high-income countries, most wasted occurs at later stages in the supply chain, at the retail and consumer level. This estimate put global food waste at about 214 calories per day per person. A new study looking at food waste suggests that global levels have been underestimated. The researchers' model estimated food waste at 527 calories per day, more than twice the previous figures. Their model found that food waste has a strong log linear relationship with consumer affluence, and was able to predict more than 80 percent of the variance within the data analyzed.

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

Price tags are seen on the samples of pulses that are kept on display for sale at a market in Mumbai, India. (REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui)

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

Bringing Funds to the Fields: The International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) unveiled a new approach to financing agricultural development. Rather than continuing to exclusively fund governments, IFAD will provide support for small-scale producers either directly or through other financial institutions. The organization also announced a new $10 billion partnership with Global Citizen.

Financing the Locust Fight: The Africa Solidarity Trust Fund has announced a $1 million donation to help nations in East Africa as it continues to handle the unprecedented Desert Locust swarm. Donations to fight the swarm currently total $18 million, but the FAO estimates that $76 million is needed in order to adequately control the Locust swarm.


Breaking Ground: The Chicago Council is pleased to announce a new blog series, “Breaking Ground,” exploring how food systems innovation and agricultural research and development can empower farmers and feed the world. We will publish weekly posts and our series will culminate with the 2020 Global Food Security Symposium. A special subsection of our series, “Field Notes,” features voices from Feed the Future Innovation Labs and CGIAR centers. This week includes a story on bringing superfoods into local food systems from Juan Lucas Restrepo, Director-General of the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, a post explaining how the Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management helps smallholders with bio-control of the fall armyworm, and a piece from Bread for the World on the future of food systems.


Taking the Pulse: The UN FAO celebrated World Pulses Day this week in a hope to increase the use of pulses as a nutritional staple around the world. Pulses, or the edible seeds of legume plants, are a healthy option for plant-based protein. They are also beneficial to the environment through nitrogen fixation. Pulses also sell at a higher price point than other staples, which could help smallholder farmers.

Drones vs. Locusts: The United Nations is deploying a new weapon in its fight against the ongoing locust invasion devastating East Africa – drones. Officials will begin testing a specially developed prototype that uses sensors to detect locusts and adapt to their speed and height before spraying them with a deadly pesticide.
SEE ALSO: A Humanitarian Crisis Looms if Desert Locusts Are Not Stopped

Farmer Led Change: Farmers in Canada are leading the charge to make the country’s food system more sustainable and adaptable to climate change. The Farmers for Climate Solutions coalition is hoping to boost efforts by working with the Canadian Agricultural Partnership on its next five-year plan to coordinate agricultural policy for federal, provincial and territorial governments.

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

What is nitrogen fixation? Nitrogen is a key element in both chlorophyll and amino acids, making it crucial to plant growth. Despite the atmospheric abundance of nitrogen gas (N2), plants can only utilize reduced forms of the element. Biological nitrogen fixation is the process that transforms N2 into useful NH3. Soil bacteria rhizobia form symbiotic relationships with legumes and form nodules on the plants' roots. These nodules "fix" the nitrogen, making it useful to the legumes.

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

Sky Solutions for Smallholders: The Turning Matabeleland Green (TMG) project in Zimbabwe is changing how agricultural extension services are administered to the country’s most remote smallholder farmers. The program will use data collected through satellites to provide farmers with accurate and timely advice via SMS. The service will enable growers to adapt their farming to ever changing rainfall and weather patterns.


Struggles to Go Organic: Smallholders using organic farming methods in Africa, which may help preserve soil and water quality, face many difficulties in getting certified. International export markets pay a premium for organic crops, but the bureaucracy and costs involved in certification form major barriers. Some are forming producer groups to receive joint certification, allowing the costs to be shared.

Digital Greenhouses in Mali: As temperatures and droughts rise in Mali, one man, Amadou Sidibe, beats the heat with a computer-controlled greenhouse. Plants receive tailored amounts of fertilizer and water via the automated system. Sibide plans to expand and has already sold two other greenhouses.


Shrimp Solution: The greenhouse-emission cost of a kilo of farmed shrimp is four times that of a kilo of beef due to the clearing mangrove groves for shrimp aquacultures. A new company in Singapore is developing a process for artificial shrimp creation, which begins with growing shrimp cells in a nutrient solution. The current process for growing artificial shrimp requires $5000 per kilo, but the company hopes to lower costs in the future.
Robots on the Farm: Artificial intelligence advances are making the possibility of ‘agribots’ more likely. A British company has developed a new agribot capable of weeding crops. Other agribots are being used to scan fields for plant and soil health and for seeding and applying fertilizer. Some of these bots are set to go commercial later this year, as just one part of the artificial farming industry set to be worth more than $25 billion by 2025.


Administration Seeks Aid Cuts: President Trump released his Administration’s FY21 budget this week. As consistent with the last three years of budget proposals, the Administration sought to combine several accounts primarily focusing on international disaster and refugee assistance and Food for Peace, into one International Humanitarian Assistance (IHA) account. The IHA account request was approximately three billion dollars less than sum of the separate FY20 enacted accounts. The McGovern-Dole Program was eliminated in the President’s budget, and global nutrition was funded at $60 million less than FY20 enacted. Although an important signaling moment for the Administration, Congress historically sets its own budget and appropriations, which often does not align with the President’s proposal.

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

Investors Demand Change: A large investor coalition is calling for the world’s fast food chain companies to take more substantial action towards fighting climate change. The extended food supply chains of global fast food chains lack long-term sustainability controls. The coalition has engaged six companies, of which McDonald’s and Yum Brands! have set science-based emission reduction targets.

Phase One, Interrupted: The promise of increased US agricultural sales to China under Phase One of the recently signed trade deal may be delayed, warns a White House national security advisor. The outbreak of the novel coronavirus strain, COVID-19, is expected to disrupt global supply chains.

 https://www.thechicagocouncil.org/sites/default/files/calendar_icon.pngUPCOMING EVENTS

Food Talk Live
Date: 18 February
Location: Chicago, IL

America’s Environmental Future: The Food System of the Future
Date: 3 March
Location: Chicago, IL

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

World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit
Date: 17-18 March
Location: San Francisco, CA

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.