September 11, 2020 | By Julia Whiting

Global Food for Thought: Urban Growing| Wildlife Losses | Self-Reliance

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Agriculture to Blame for Wildlife Loss? 

A new report from the World Wildlife Fund is making headlines this week, stating that two thirds of the world’s wildlife have perished from 1970-2016. No region of the world is immune to the trend, although some regions have seen greater losses than others. Deforestation and habitat loss—both due to agriculture—are being pointed to as key drivers of wildlife loss. Although some may see this as blaming agriculture, it can also be understood as an indicator that the current food system has ceased to serve people and our planet. As Agnes Kalibata wrote this week, the key is to “deal with the food system as a whole,” rather than treating separate symptoms of disfunction—such as wildlife and biodiversity loss or malnutrition. OF THE WEEK


A woman waters plants on the rooftop of a building, as many Lebanese turn to grow vegetables and fruits at home as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic hammers the collapsing economy and food costs soar to new heights, in Beirut, Lebanon. (REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir)


Council Experts Weigh In at AGRF: The African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) 2020 Virtual Summit featured several Council experts on panels. The week kicked off with a pre-session on soil health, which was born out of our paper Considering a Soil Initiative for Africa. Later in the week, Senior Fellow Roger Thurow highlighted the importance of nutrition in the first 1000 days of life on a gender and nutrition panel. Distinguished Fellow Ertharin Cousin moderated discussion of nutrition indicators, and Nonresident Fellow Alesha Miller addressed data sharing issues. COUNCIL EVENTS

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. 


Locusts Spread to southern Africa: Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Zambia are facing outbreaks of the African migratory locust. Although these South African nations are beset by smarms much smaller than those in Eastern Africa, they pose a threat to regional food security.  

Growing to Survive: Food prices in Lebanon are soaring, and the economy was struggling long before the recent explosion in Beirut displaced hundreds of thousands. Many are turning to growing their own food as a way to cope. While returning to the land has helped feed families, unreliable government services are a consistent setback.   

Food Prices, and Insecurity, Up: Global food prices have risen steadily for the past three months. Strong demand, a weak dollar, hot and rainy weather, and pandemic upheavals have all contributed. Although there is no pressing food shortage, one survey of smallholder farmers found that 70 percent of respondents said their ability to purchase food has been negatively impacted. DIVE

How much food can cities grow? In Beirut, many families have begun balcony or rooftop gardens. A handful of balcony gardens may seem insignificant, but a recent study found that growing fruit and vegetables in 10 percent of urban green space could feed 15 percent of a city’s population. Urban growing has a lot of potential, but needs judicious management to reap all the benefits. CRUNCH

Collaboration Needed: This year’s AGRF 2020 Virtual Summit went beyond calling for more data in agriculture. Two panels discussed the need for strong data strategies as well, highlighting collaboration and data sharing as crucial. Chicago Council Nonresident Fellow Alesha Miller warned that without data sharing, there has been a tendency to replicate efforts, rather than build on progress.    


Self-Reliance: Local climate change funds in five Kenyan counties are supporting smallholder farmers adapt to extreme weather events such as drought and flooding. With a strong focus on community-run projects, the funds have helped farmers invest in fruit trees, rainwater harvesting, and fish farming. Seven other counties are adopting the climate change fund model to support farmers.  


Righting Land Rights: Nearly 90 percent of rural land on the African continent is not formally undocumented, despite at least 34 World Bank projects on land titling and registration in the past 15 years. Lack of secure property rights can expedite land degradation and prevent farmers from investing in their enterprises. Land reform is often politically difficult, however. 


Sweetening a Deal: The United States’ standoff with Brazil over the expiration of a preferential deal on ethanol tariffs was escalated by House Agriculture Committee chairman Collin Peterson, who called on the Trump administration to negotiate with Brazil in order to revive the previous deal and avert a new trade war. Sugar growers in Brazil, who are largely responsible for the countries ethanol production, oppose any new deal that does not grant them greater access to the United States’ domestic sugar market. ACTORS 

UN Warns of Famine: The UN Secretary-General warned Security Council members of famine risk in four conflict-affected countries this week. South Sudan, Yemen, Congo, and northeast Nigeria meet criteria set out in a 2018 Security Council resolution to report on highly significant risk of conflict-induced famine and food insecurity. Indicators are deteriorating in other conflict-affected nations such as Somalia, Afghanistan, and Burkina Faso. 

COVID, Climate, Food Insecurity: An estimated 45 million people in southern Africa are food insecure. The region has faced nonstop impacts of climate change on food production for the past four years, including drought, floods, and cyclones. The COVID-19 pandemic not only exposed the existing systemic weakness of regional food security policies, but it has also hurt the livelihoods of many people, increasing unemployment and food insecurity. & COMMODITIES

Crabby Trade: Continued pandemic lockdown in Bangladesh and closure of international markets is harming women crab farmers and their families. Lucrative crab exports to China have ground to a halt. Although women farmers have adapted by raising shrimp and whitefish as well, the two are more labor intensive and less profitable than crab. UPCOMING EVENTS

BIFAD 182nd Public Meeting: COVID-19 and Nutrition
Date: September 14
Time: 9 am CDT

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

The World Food Prize Borlaug Dialogues
Date: October 12-18

FFA2020 Online Live 
Date: October 26
Time: 3 pm CET

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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 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.