September 4, 2020

Global Food for Thought: Special Report Edition - New Solutions for a Changing Climate

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The Public Imperative for Investment in Agricultural R&D 

Public investment in agricultural research in the 20th and 21st centuries has resulted in unprecedented worldwide production of a few staple crops and the improvement of dozens more. However, agricultural producers around the world are facing new challenges as global climate changes become increasingly unpredictable. Our new policy brief, New Solutions for a Changing Climate, authored by Dr. Molly Jahn, argues that now is the time for a revitalization of public investment in agricultural research, American food systems, and international agricultural development that focuses on the challenges of the future. This week’s edition of GFFT will deep dive into the challenges facing our food system, and how agricultural R&D can help farmers and consumers around the world thrive. OF THE WEEK


Although the United States Department of Agriculture is a powerhouse of research, many government entities perform research and development that is relevant to agriculture, nutrition, and food security. 


Areas for Investment: The policy brief includes areas for further research, born out of numerous consultations with government agencies and non-profits. One of these areas is improving soil health, critical but until recently overlooked. At the AGRF 2020 Virtual Summit, the Chicago Council is cohosting a pre-session on September 7 with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and the Colorado State University System on building a soils initiative for the African continent. A Council issue brief by David Nielson spurred the panel, which will feature experts from IFPRI, USAID, RUFORUM, Colorado State University, ASARECA, CRS, and the University of Stellenbosch. COUNCIL EVENTS

A Soils Initiative for Africa
Date: September 7
Time: 10 a.m. CDT

VIRTUAL: Private Sector Responsibility on Race, Equity, and Inclusion- Part 1 
Date: September 15 
Time: 8 a.m. CDT 

LIVE STREAM: How Korea Transformed the Cold War
Date: September 16
Time: 2 p.m. CDT

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


Farmers on the Front Lines: Farmers around the world worry about the long-term viability of their operations. As climate pressures and agricultural debt grow, farmer mental health should be a top concern for policy makers and researchers alike. For historically and presently marginalized farmers who face lower access to inputs, credit, and government support, this concern is particularly important. A resilient food system must include resilient farmers. DIVE

Funding Ag R&D at Universities: US universities conduct important agricultural research, often with federal funding. Yet USDA grants are still limited to cover no more than 30 percent of a project’s indirect costs such as salary, rent, and other routine costs of performing advanced research—much lower than grants from other agencies. This puts universities on the hook for costs that would otherwise be covered and has left them operating agricultural research at a loss. CRUNCH

Ensuring Public Data: New Solutions for a Changing Climate recommends that the USDA continue to commit to mandated standards for the archiving and curation of federally funded research data and mobilize its operational data for research. Ensuring that the data from federally funded research is public allows for greater transparency in research and fosters further innovation.  


Global Weirding: We now know with high scientific confidence that food security is currently affected by climate change. The ten hottest years on record have occurred since 2005, stressing crops, humans, and livestock alike. Drought and flooding have devastated regions from the central US to eastern Africa, and weather around the world is becoming more unpredictable. Public agricultural R&D is uniquely positioned to address these tragedies of the commons.  


More than Yields: Global yields of top crops such as soy and corn have skyrocketed over the last century. Yet as our understanding of nutrition grows, it has become more clear that we need to focus on the quality as well as the quantity of our crops. Research must dive deep into the agriculture-health-nutrition nexus, and how climate plays a role in not only feeding but nourishing the planet.  


Beyond the USDA: In addition to the Department of Agriculture, over ten agencies research issues relevant to agriculture and food security. We offer policy recommendations to help coordinate and strengthen the work already being done. For example, increased communication between the USDA and the Department of State’s Office of Agricultural Policy (AGP) about new innovations would allow the AGP to focus in on building capacity and enabling trade with priority countries. ACTORS 

Collaboration is Key: The US relies on global partners to research for a food secure future. The Feed the Future Innovation Labs, based at US land-grant universities, work with local partners such as CORAF, the West African association of national agricultural research systems, on food security projects. CGIAR centers are also key partners for international agricultural research. & COMMODITIES

Ag R&D Benefits Everyone: When innovations help save farmers money, they are better able to invest in their operations. This strengthens food systems, increases trade, and provides stability for consumers. UPCOMING EVENTS

AGRF Virtual Forum
Date: September 8-11

The Root of It: Rejuvenating the Ag Ecosystem
Date: September 17, 24 & October 1 
Time: 2 pm CDT 

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.