May 1, 2020 | By Julia Whiting

Global Food for Thought: Seed Distribution | Fuel for Harvest | Farm Automation

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For Farmers, Oversupply, Lack of Labor, and Hard Choices: Farming has never been easy profession. Its very dependence on the weather guarantees a level of unpredictability in the best of circumstances. Now, farmers are adjusting to forces much greater. The effects of the pandemic on global farmers are varied. In Europe, a shortage of workers has left fruit to rot in the fields, and shown how deeply dependent the global food system is on immigrant labor. For Egyptian wheat farmers the harvest is continuing with business-as-usual, except the national government is now one of their biggest buyers. Tomato growers in Mexico are donating produce to food banks and even feeding their surplus to cattle after demand has dropped up to 40 percent due to restaurant and hotel closures. Some farmers in the US are benefitting from an increase in local buying, while others are forced to cull their livestock. Around the world, access to vital inputs such as fertilizer is getting limited by restrictions on movement. On top of these novel pressures, the weather continues to be a source of worry. In order to avoid the World Food Program's dire warning of a doubling of the world's hungry, nations need to commit to supporting farmers and finding ways to bring their products to those in need. OF THE WEEK

Farmers load a truck with rotten lettuces at a farm during the nationwide quarantine as coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in La Grita, Venezuela. (REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez)


Modernizing the Land Grant Model and Investing in Research: US land grant universities were founded with the goal of making science and learning accessible. The traditional model relies on person-to-person extension efforts, but how we work and travel is now limited. Scientific Animations Without Borders (SAWBO) was founded to share solutions and knowledge with the approximately 800 million low-literacy learners around the world. SAWBO has created video content in over 145 languages covering topics such as health, agriculture, and women's empowerment. Read about how their video on turning jerrycans into safe, low-cost grain storage can help smallholder farmers safeguard their food security in these uncertain times. Also this week, Diana and Curt Horvath call for greater investment in pathogen research now, to avoid paying the steep costs of a pandemic or major crop failure in the future. COUNCIL EVENTS

LIVE STREAM: Recent Developments on the Korean Peninsula
Date: May 8
Time: 2 pm CT

LIVE STREAM: Protecting the US Political System from Pandemic Threats
Date: May 11
Time: 1 pm CT

LIVE STREAM: Playing Fair by Embracing Gender Equity in Sport
Date: May 12
Time: 11 am CT

LIVE STREAM: Former New Zealand Prime Minister Clark on Multilateralism and COVID-19
Date: May 13
Time: 5 pm CT

Did you miss one of our previous livestreams? Don't worry! They are all available on our website to watch at any time. 


No Fuel for Harvest: Fuel shortages around Venezuela are impairing the ability of farmers to harvest and transport their crops to markets. US sanctions on the country have worsened the fuel shortages. In response, Venezuelan farmer are keeping their crops in the fields instead of harvesting. Venezuela, which already struggles with high food insecurity, is at risk of losing thousands of acres of food.  

Reduced Imports, Increased Hunger: The World Bank is forecasting that Sub-Saharan Africa will import 13-25 percent less food due to export restrictions in place around the world. Many Sub-Saharan countries are heavily reliant on food imports, with some countries spending half of export earnings on food. If the amount of food that can be imported is limited, hunger will undoubtedly increase in the region—the FAO is predicting that the population experiencing food insecurity could double. 

The Future of Fish: Wild fish populations have been consistently decreasing in recent years, demonstrated through industrial fish farms doubling production in the past 15 years. Increasing the practice of aquaponics could be one way of increasing food production in a sustainable way in order to feed the world’s growing population. DIVE

What is aquaponic growing? Aquaponics is the combination of aquaculture and hydroponic growing to create a closed-loop system. Wastewater from the fish is circulated to and fertilizes the plants. The plants help filter the wastewater, which returns to the fish tank. A home system can be built with relatively low costs. Aquaponics uses 80-90 percent less water than traditional, soil-based agriculture, which has earned the practice a following in drought-afflicted regions. CRUNCH

Automated Harvest: Israel’s agrifood sector may offer solutions for the farm labor shortages currently experienced around Europe. Israel’s agriculture has already been moving towards automation of its labor, with half of its agrifood-tech sector working on automation and decision-support platforms. Existing technology can already pollinate and harvest crops. Expediting the integration of agricultural automation technology could be a helpful step to bolster supply chains.   


Second Wave: The locust swarms that have already been plaguing East African farmlands for most of the year are set to begin their second wave of damage. The second wave is estimated to be 20 times larger than the first round, which was already the largest swarm ever recorded. The UN warns the locusts could ruin 2 million square miles of farmland, greatly worsening the current food insecurity of the region. 

Seed Distribution Limited: Coronavirus movement restrictions have been impairing the FAO’s ability to distribute necessary seeds to vulnerable farmers in equatorial states such as South Sudan. The FAO is currently tasked with the distribution 10,000 tons of seeds but has had to adapt in order to maintain the health and safety of both farmers and employees. In addition to a temporary transportation allowance by the South Sudan government, the FAO is limiting face-to-face distribution of the seeds and increasing its local sourcing of seeds.  


Innovation for Profit: It can take 7 to 15 years for producers to fully adopt a new innovation and feel its maximum benefits. Because of the time between an investment in research and the realization of its benefits, it can be hard to make the case for federal spending on agricultural research. The Supporters of Ag Research Foundation released their latest Retaking the Field report, which chronicles cutting-edge advances in agriculture R&D that lower risks and costs for farmers while increasing their profits. 

Saving Rice Diversity: Debal Deb, a researcher and ecologist from Odisha, India, has been conserving indigenous seeds for decades. Before the Green Revolution in India in the 1960’s, the number of indigenous rice types was over 100,000, but the number has shrunk to around 7000 today. In response, Deb has been cultivating an open-source seed bank, through which he distributes seeds to farmers around the country in order to maintain the country’s vast agricultural diversity. 


The Meat of the Matter: President Trump signed an executive order this week to keep meat processing facilities open amid anticipated meat shortages. Several facilities across the US have closed in response to outbreaks of COVID-19, halting production, and leading to concerns of supply chain disruption. Using the Defense Production Act, Trump declared meat processing plants as critical infrastructure to maintain operations. 
SEE ALSO: Pandemic Accelerates Shifts to Meat Substitutes ACTORS 

Safety First: The FAO published a new report this week calling for increased safety measures in the forestry industry. Forestry, one of the more dangerous civilian professions, employs 50 million people worldwide. Workers are frequently placed at risk due to the tools used and the industry’s typically harsh conditions. The report lays out recommendations for addressing safety issues while maintaining the industry’s significant role in rural employment.  

A Wave of Planting: Pakistan is responding to high unemployment through increasing the number of jobs available in their “10 Billion Tree Tsunami Programme.” The program, which has a five-year goal of planting 10 billion trees, was restarted this month to pay 63,000 out-of-work laborers to plant trees in order to limit the address the effects of climate change in Pakistan. & COMMODITIES

Withholding Wheat: Russia, the world’s largest wheat exporter, has announced it will begin limiting sales of wheat through June in order to prevent food shortages. Sales will be limited to only four other nearby countries, a trend seen around the world as countries seek to protect their food supplies.  

Rice Prices Rise: Rice prices in India, the world's top exporter of the grain, have hit their highest levels since August. Bangladesh's summer rice crop is expected to produce higher than last year's, despite concerns over labor shortages. In Thailand, drought has kept rice supplies limited. UPCOMING EVENTS

Webinar: Near-Real-Time Monitoring of Food Crisis Risk Factors: State of Knowledge and Future Prospects
Date: May 8
Time: 8 am CT

Farmers on the Frontline - Building Resilience in a Post-Coronavirus World
Date: May 8
Time: 8 am CT


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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.


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Bread Blog, Bread for the World

Can We Feed the World Blog, Agriculture for Impact

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| 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.