January 11, 2019

Global Food for Thought: Swine Fever, Plant Hacks, and Ugandan Innovation

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https://engage.thechicagocouncil.org/l/557772/2018-09-21/5xdymt/557772/224304/quote2.pngTOP STORY

Hacking Photosynthesis

A protein called Rubisco is found in the leaves of most plants and  sucks up carbon dioxide from the air and converts the carbon to sugar for the plant to use. Researchers at the University of Illinois are seeking ways to “hack” this process of photosynthesis to become more efficient by altering the plant’s DNA. Such a development would make the plants more productive. The research program is now working with tomatoes, soybeans, and cowpeas. Modified plants have grown as much as 40 percent larger than the unmodified counterparts.

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

Pigs are seen in a piggery. (Reuters/Kacper Pempel)

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

Government Dirt: In 2015, the FAO warned that there would only be approximately 60 years of farmable soil left if soil degradation continues. Today, soil depletion continues to occur, mainly because of weaknesses in infrastructure needed in low- to middle-income countries to produce credible targeted data sets. Governments also struggle with presenting the information to combat soil depletion in a balanced and efficient way to farmers and decision-makers.

African Billionaires Increase Philanthropy: Four of Africa’s wealthiest individuals have now signed the Giving Pledge, a commitment to donate the majority of their wealth to charitable causes. Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, has not yet taken the pledge, but has already created the Dangote Foundation with an endowment of $1.25 billion to support education, the arts, and humanitarian relief.

China Sets Poverty Eradication Example: China is responsible for more than 70 percent of the global fall of poverty levels over the last 40 years. In the 1960s, nearly 50 percent of the world lived in extreme poverty; today, that number is around 10 percent. Much of this shift is related to market reforms which stimulated agricultural productivity growths in the late 1970s, including private land ownership.

https://engage.thechicagocouncil.org/l/557772/2018-10-01/5xkyvw/557772/226010/insights_icon.pngCOUNCIL INSIGHTS

Israel-Africa Agriculture Innovation Center: Africa’s increased production, adoption, and continent-wide distribution of agricultural technologies, including improved and high yielding seed varieties, irrigation and appropriate fertilizer application, has created progress in the lives of millions of people but the potential is still huge. In the first new Agri-Pulse and Chicago Council partnership column of the year, Marshall Matz describes how Israel, widely acknowledged as a world leader in agricultural development, especially in arid areas, is coming forward to develop, adapt, and transfer appropriate technologies and practices to partners across Africa.

https://engage.thechicagocouncil.org/l/557772/2018-10-01/5xkywr/557772/226026/grow_Icon.pngFOOD AND AGRICULTURAL ISSUES

China’s Pig Problem: China has confirmed about 100 cases of African swine fever, a disease deadly to pigs. China’s animal husbandry and veterinary affairs bureau has said there will be an increase in investigations and punishments regarding the illegal activity in the pig industry. Taiwan, an island neighbor, fears their supply of pigs could soon become infected.
Disease Outbreak: South Africa has detected foot and mouth disease (FMD), a highly contagious viral disease that affects livestock. FMD is associated with a significant economic impact; Namibia has already suspended all imports from South Africa.
East African Aquaculture: The five-year fish farming project, True Fish, starts this year in East Africa and will run until 2024 under a budget funded by the European Development Fund. This comes after years of aquaculture not developing to its potential. Leaders from Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda are scheduled to meet in early February to get the project underway.

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

What is Foot and Mouth Disease: Also known as hoof and mouth disease, foot and mouth disease (FMD) causes a high fever and blisters inside the mouth and on the feet that can cause lameness. FMD is highly contagious between domestic animals such as cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, and pigs. Humans have rarely been infected with the disease but can transmit the virus between farms. Vaccination campaigns have shown promise, but the FMD virus quickly evolves and mutates which makes vaccine development difficult.

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

Coca-Cola and China’s Obesity Fight: A new study authored by Susan Greenhalgh has focused on the Chinese government’s efforts to address a rising obesity crisis, as the percentage of obese Chinese adults more than doubled in the past two decades. In 1978, Coca-Cola was the first international company to re-enter China, where funding for chronic disease research was extremely low at the time. Chinese scientists accepted corporate research funding, and Greenhalgh argues that this partnership allowed the soda company to influence the Chinese government’s nutrition policy development.


Chinese Water Pollution: China’s extended campaign to tackle water pollution saw improvements and declines in 2018. The major waterways saw improved water quality, while rivers in the northeast were more polluted. The amount of water that can be used for agriculture and industry increased 1.6 percentage points.
Cassava Creation: Researchers in Nigeria have been working to improve the cassava crop by crossing African and Asian varieties to create a more resilient and universal crop. Five newly breed varieties have been sent to Thailand for planting.
Opinion – The Riddle of Indian Agricultural Marketing: Farmer protests in India have continued over low farm incomes, with some pointing to gaps in agricultural marketing as a culprit. More than 80 percent of Indian farmers grow on less than two hectares of land and face difficulties such as small agricultural surpluses, distances to procurement centers, and cumbersome bureaucratic procedures that hinder their ability to make use of government agency marketing tools.

https://engage.thechicagocouncil.org/l/557772/2018-10-01/5xkzwh/557772/226054/big_ideas.pngBIG IDEAS

Applications Open: Michigan State University is hosting the first annual Global Youth Advancement Summit from June 11-13, 2019. At this youth focused summit, delegates will be at the helm fully participating, and in fact driving, all summit activities. To accomplish this, GYAN has launched an open call for proposals to identify young people with innovative ideas, business ventures, and social impact initiatives that address global inequities. The application deadline has now been extended; apply now!

Ugandan Innovation: The Artificial Intelligence for Earth Innovation Awards have been given to 11 innovators around the world. Including Ketty Adoch, a Ugandan geographical information systems specialist in agriculture. Torsten Bondo, a business development manager and senior remote sensing engineer from Denmark, who applies AI to improve crop water efficiency in Uganda also received the award
Israel Takes Flight: Israel Aerospace Industries will introduce drones for large-scale precision agriculture with the help of Brazil’s Santos Lab Comercio E Industria Aerospacial. Israel’s new ability to produce reports on large farming areas with drones will generate hundreds of millions of dollars in the coming decade.

https://engage.thechicagocouncil.org/l/557772/2018-10-01/5xkzwt/557772/226058/dc_icon.pngDC REPORT

Feed the Future Successes: Farmers in Ghana have seen an increase in agriculture productivity with the introduction of modern technologies and improved seeds. The Feed the Future USAID Agriculture Technology Transfer Project has been praised by stakeholders for making these significant contributions to the country. 

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

Monsanto in India: The Supreme Court in India has ruled that Monsanto, the US biotech company, can claim patents on its GM cotton seeds. India is the world’s biggest producer of cotton. Critics of the ruling say the high cost of GM seeds will be added to the growing debt crisis. Opposition rulers will seek a change in the patent agreement.
China Approves GM Crops: China has approved five new GM crops to be imported. This comes as the US trade delegation is meeting with Chinese officials in Beijing. The US is the world’s largest producer of GM crops and China has pledged to buy a substantial amount of agricultural, energy, and manufactured goods and services from the US.
Tanzanian Crop Production: An increase in crop production in Tanzania resulted in a dramatic drop in the prices over the past couple years. Farmers have been reassured of a reliable and consistent market with National Food Reserve Agency and the Cereals and Mixed Crops board buying their produce.

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

SXSW Conference Panel: Cultivating the Next Generation of Food Leaders
Date: March 13
Location: Austin, Texas
Global Food Security Symposium 2019
Date: March 20-21
Location: Washington, DC

EAT Stockholm Food Forum 2019
Date: Jun 12-13
Location: Stockholm, Sweden


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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.


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 Janet Fierro

Guest Commentary - Rural Niger Women find Opportunity and Hope through Innovative Business Model

When researchers set out to find natural ways to manage a crop-destroying pest in sub-Saharan Africa cowpea fields they knew the results could have significant positive impact on smallholder farmers. What they may not have expected was the significance of the cottage industry it inspired and the entrepreneurial spirit of the rural women of Niger who led it.