August 2, 2019

Global Food for Thought: Record Wheat Yields | Innovation Rush | Resilience Lab

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Record Wheat Yields: 

Extreme weather in Europe, Australia, and the United States have prompted the International Grains Council to cut its global wheat forecast by 6 million tons. Argentinian wheat farmers, however, are expecting a record harvest. The country’s wheat prices and share in global wheat exports are expected to rise, as below-average yields in other regions continue. OF THE WEEK

An aerial photo of deforested Amazon rainforest turned into farmland near Alta Floresta, Brazil. (REUTERS/Nacho Doce) ACTORS 

A New Green Revolution: India’s government is encouraging farmers to switch to chemical-free agricultural practices. A report by the Centre for Science and Environment suggests that the widespread use of the subsidized chemical fertilizers is leading to nitrogen pollution in both surface and groundwater in many states, exacerbating existing water shortages.

SEE ALSO: A New Alternative to Synthetic Fertilizers

First Time for Food Aid: For the first time in its history, the government of Zimbabwe is distributing food aid to its cities. Drought, crop failure following Cyclone Idai, rising inflation, and an economic downturn have converged to create food insecurity that is affecting more than half of the population.


USAID’s Reorganization: USAID has recently restructured major departments, leading to the creation of the Office of the Associate Administrator for Relief, Response, and Resilience (R3). R3 will be the new home of the agency's food security efforts. This marks a shift in the agency’s approach to development assistance, with a new emphasis on self-reliance and stability. The latest piece in our Policies for a Nourished Future series delves into the reorganization and the questions it raises.


Cutting Food Waste: Two Ugandan entrepreneurs have developed a low-cost, no-emission food dryer to make agriculture more profitable for smallholder farmers. Food waste is a major challenge across Africa: in Uganda alone, 30 percent of crops are lost annually. Food dryers help farmers salvage a much higher portion of their crops.

Innovation Rush: Climate change has been driving scientists to engineer crops that can withstand higher temperatures, droughts, and floods. Recent breakthroughs in improving photosynthesis have potential for crops like cassava and corn. Newly developed flood-tolerant rice is now being used by 6 million farmers in Asia, building resilience to extreme weather. 

Hopeful Rains: Following lower-than-average monsoon rains and subsequent planting delays in the first half of the season, India has received welcome relief. The past week has seen 42 percent more rain than the 50-year average. Based on meteorological forecasts, the state-run weather office predicts that the nation’s rain deficit will be cleared by the end of August.

SEE ALSO: Asia’s Crop Production Impacted by Erratic Weather DIVE

Late Blight: This common plant disease causes $6.7 billion in crop losses each year. The fungus-like organism—an oomycete—called Phytophthora infestans is responsible for late blight. Late blight primarily affects potatoes and tomatoes but can infect other nightshades as well. It is the disease that contributed to the Great Famine in Ireland, also known as the Irish Potato Famine. Late blight can affect plants at any stage in their development and spreads rapidly, making early detection paramount. CRUNCH

IDeforestation Watchdogs: A new online tool called Global Forest Watch Pro is using satellite mapping to help companies monitor whether countries are engaging in deforestation. NASA satellites scan the entire planet every week and constantly update the online map. The technology can monitor specific farms, allowing major food companies with pledges to cut links to deforestation to track their suppliers.

SEE ALSO: The Amazon’s Tipping Point


Innovation Lab for Resilience: With a five-year, $30 million USAID grant, the University of California, Davis, has established an Innovation Lab for Markets, Risk and Resilience to study the root causes of global rural poverty. The lab will test agricultural and financial projects that offer potential solutions to the disasters and conflicts that drive global food insecurity and poverty.

Vitamin Deficiency: The International Potato Center (CIP) is breeding high-nutrient strains of sweet potatoes to combat vitamin A deficiency. Worldwide, 250 million preschool-aged children are vitamin A deficient, which can cause blindness, limit growth, and increase mortality. Despite advances in varieties, getting them to smallholder farmers remains a challenge. 


There’s an App for That: Researchers have designed a smartphone attachment that can determine if a crop is infected with late blight, a common plant disease which disproportionately affects smallholder farmers. The smartphone device prototype can identify the presence of the pathogen within two days of infection.

Cash Cows: South African app MyFarmbook connects smallholder livestock farmers with urban investors, who can buy shares in a pregnant cow or young calf. Livestock contribute to over half of South Africa’s agricultural economy, and recent droughts have seen global prices for sheep and beef rise. Investors looking to cash in can receive interest rates between 5 and 14 percent through the app.


Retirement on the Hill: The ranking Republican on the House Agriculture Committee, Mike Conaway (TX), will not be seeking reelection in 2020 after serving 15 years in Congress. His is the fifth Republican retirement announced in the past two weeks. & COMMODITIES

Colombian Beef in China: Colombia is trying to become one of China’s main sources of beef and cheaper pork. Due to African swine fever in China and the rising price of pork, many individuals in China are turning to beef as a replacement. More than half of China’s beef imports in 2018 came from Latin America; however, none came from Colombia.

Union Worries: Indian government officials are negotiating the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership in Beijing amidst opposition from major farmers’ unions. Indian farmers fear the 16-member Asia-Pacific trade pact will lead to cheaper produce imports and harm the nation’s agricultural sector.

Cheaper Commodities: The FAO’s Food Price Index fell in July, as a result of lower prices for cereals, dairy products, and sugar. Prices for oils and meat remained somewhat steady. Despite the 1.1 percent decline from June, prices are 2.3 percent higher than they were at the same time last year. EVENTS

Global Food Innovation Summit
Date: September 3-5
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Aid & International Development Forum Global Summit
Date: September 4
Location: Washington, DC
Feeding the Future
Date: September 26
Location: London, England

CGIAR Big Data in Agriculture Convention
Date: October 16-18
Location: Hyderabad, India

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.