February 21, 2020 | By Julia Whiting

Global Food for Thought: Solar Arrays | Sweet Potatoes | Systems Approach

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Putting the "System" in Food Systems

Effectively assessing and mitigating the climate impacts of food and agriculture will be impossible without taking a food systems approach, argues a new paper. Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, transport, industry, and household consumption taken as a whole gives a complete picture of the impacts of food on our environment, which adds to a figure larger than reporting each category separately. Additionally, by reconfiguring how the problem is understood, adaptation and mitigation practices may become more integrated from supply to demand. 

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

A worker holds palm oil fruits. (REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng)

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

Pledges for Processing: The African Development Bank pledged a $500 million loan to finance four Special Agro Industrialized Processing Zones (SAPZ) in Nigeria. The project will develop the local agricultural value chain by increasing processing and storage capacity while bringing jobs and encouraging private investment.

End of an Era: The European Union announced that it will shut the Technical Center for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation later this year. While a private organization could rescue some of the initiative, EU officials decided that the center, which improves knowledge-sharing between communities in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, does not fall under the strict mandate to support sustainable and climate-resilient development.


Global Viewpoints, Investing in Innovation, and a Farmer’s Perspective: “Breaking Ground,” our new blog series on innovation and research in agriculture, features three stories this week. The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems emphasizes the need to consider context in debates over whether or not to eat animal-sourced foods. A post from the Farm Journal Foundation explores farm conservation programs and offers one farm’s perspective on the issue, and Grow Asia highlights an innovative approach to agricultural investment in Southeast Asia.


The Amazon Pays for Chinese Soy: China currently gets 70-80 percent of its soy from Brazil. That demand is being met through increasing deforestation in the Amazon, which may be accelerated as construction on a major train line from the interior to major river ports becomes a possibility. The project would cost $3.1 billion and bidding for contracts will begin later this year. 
SEE ALSO: Brazil Offers Credit for Indigenous Lands Opened Up to Mining and Agriculture

Superfood Stories: Farmers in Kenya’s Meru county have found a solution to the region’s erratic rainfall and widespread malnourishment: sweet potatoes. A savings and credit cooperative is distributing drought-tolerant and disease-resistant vines that enable farmers to meet local nutritional needs despite difficult growing conditions.

Livestock at the Border: Sudan and South Sudan signed a Memorandum of Understanding in order to improve and protect the sanitation and health of animals at their border area. The agreement focuses on prevention of transboundary animal diseases and promoting livestock trade in the area. Livestock is a crucial part of livelihoods in both Sudan and South Sudan, despite low contributions to national GDPs.

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

What’s the fuss over sweet potato? While sweet potato is having a cultural moment as the superfood of our time, it has been cultivated for over 5000 years. This prolific root vegetable requires only a few inputs and tolerates harsh conditions like poor soil and excess heat. The plant consists of several edible parts that pack a hefty nutritional punch, with just 125g containing enough beta-carotene to meet the Vitamin A needs of a preschooler. Sweet potatoes produce more edible energy per hectare than wheat, rice or cassava.

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

NASA in the Field: NASA Harvest is helping countries in Africa build agricultural monitoring systems that use satellite data from international space agencies. The program builds capacity by training workers to leverage information to estimate production yields and forecast weather patterns, thereby protecting food security.


Investing in Children: A new joint report by the WHO, UNICEF, and The Lancet pushes to have children as the key focus in how the Sustainable Development Goals are achieved. It calls for early investment in child health and nutrition through ending harmful advertising practices for products such as fast food and addressing ecological damage to prevent future harms to the next generation.


Farming the Sun: Combining solar panels and plants into the same land is one way to boost green energy production without losing land for food. Elevating solar arrays and having plants grow beneath can provide extra energy for communities as well as reduce costs for farmers. Early field tests suggest that the arrangement may even lead to increases in yields compared to crops in direct sunlight.

Opinion - Empowering Smallholder Farmers: While avocados are Kenya’s leading fruit export, smallholder farmers who grow 70 percent of the output are largely excluded from lucrative opportunities higher up the value chain. A researcher is calling on the government to help these producers directly enter the export market by reducing barriers to entry and facilitating engagement.


Innovation Agenda: USDA announced a new initiative entitled the Agriculture Innovation Agenda, aiming to innovate to increase agricultural production by 40 percent while reducing US agriculture’s environmental impact by 50 percent by 2050. Secretary Perdue said that USDA will primarily examine carbon sequestration and water quality as part of the environmental footprint. The department intends to focus on research and innovation, as well as data collection to better understand agricultural conservation practices.

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

Floral Boom: Colombia’s flower market has been steadily rising in recent decades, with an increase from $630 million in 2001 to an estimated $1.5 billion this year. The flower market alone has created an estimated 140,000 jobs and the Colombian President Duque hopes to increase exports to $3 billion by 2030 through market expansion.

Palm Oil and Bananas to China Falls: The novel corona virus spread in China is taking a toll on agricultural production in the region. Indonesian palm oil exports to China—19 percent of total exports—have dropped off dramatically. Small- and medium-sized banana farms in the Philippines are struggling to find importers amidst work shutdowns and market closures.

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

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

Food Talk Live
Date: 30 March
Location: Chicago, IL

Forum on the Future of Agriculture
Date: 31 March
Location: Brussels, Belgium

2020 Water for Food Conference
Date: 7-9 October
Location: Lincoln, Nebraska

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.