February 28, 2020 | By Julia Whiting

Global Food for Thought: Venezuela | Agroforestry | Seawater Rice

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1 in 3 Venezuelans Going Hungry

According to a new survey conducted by the UN World Food Programme, one in three Venezuelans are experiencing food insecurity. Lack of sufficient quality or quantity of food is a problem even in the most prosperous areas of the nation, although at slightly lower levels. This widespread hunger persists despite 70 percent of respondents reporting that food was always available. High prices, however, prevent people from purchasing food. Six out of ten families reported having spent their savings to buy food.

The survey revealed that families are also struggling with accessing basic services. 40 percent of households have experienced daily interruptions in electrical service and one quarter of households do not have sustainable access to potable water. The survey was conducted from July through September 2019, leading some advocates to worry that the current situation is even worse.

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

A mobile phone application shows movements of a John Deere 5503 tractor, installed with the Hello Tractor technology that connects farmers with vehicles' owners, in Umande village in Nanyuki. (REUTERS/Njeri Mwangi)

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

Before It’s Too Late: The FAO has increased its appeal for funds for East Africa locust outbreak from $76 million to $138 million, citing the need to control locusts through increased spraying and improving cross-border coordination. As of now only $52 million has been received. The FAO estimates that the cost of responding to food insecurity caused by the locusts would be over 15 times higher than the cost of preventing their spread now.  
SEE ALSO: China rules out sending ducks to Pakistan to eat locusts


Biofortification and Mechanized Threshers: It is no secret that women are vital to the global food system at every level. HarvestPlus has recognized this and women’s especially key role in household nutrition. Read their blog post on the ways gendered considerations in programing scales up the adoption of biofortified foods and boosts food security. Afterwards, check out a story from the Feed the Future Soybean Innovation Lab on getting harvest equipment to smallholder farmers. Through partnership with Ghanaian universities, the Lab supports local design and manufacture of multi-crop threshers which reduce postharvest loss by 35 percent.


Seeds in the Bank: Deposits from 35 genebanks, national institutions, and civil organizations brought the total number of seeds stored in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault to more than one million. Nine traditional varieties from the Cherokee Nation were among the deposits. Their contribution represents the second deposit from an indigenous community in the Svalbard Vault’s 12-year history.

Climate Change and Corn: Farmers in Mexico are having to adjust their farming practices in response to changing climate patterns. With 75 percent of Mexican soil already too dry for crops, farmers are shifting from crops that require more water such as corn and beans to cacti and pistachio trees, which are successful in drier, desert climates. Land use for corn fell 4 percent from 2015 to 2019 and will likely continue to fall.

Rice on the Seas: Rice is a nutritional staple for 3.5 billion people but requires more water than most crops, a growing concern with freshwater limitations. One company is trying to produce salt-tolerant rice and floating ocean farms as a solution. This new rice would not need soil, fertilizer, or fresh water and the ocean farms could act as a filter for ocean water.

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

Banking on Seeds: Although the Svalbard International Seed Vault is the most famous seed bank, there are many more—about 1000—around the world. Seed banks can range from community efforts to protect local varieties national institutions. Deposits in these banks include both cultivated, human-bred seeds and their wild counterparts, in an attempt to preserve the planet’s biodiversity and local cultures.

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

Investment in FoodTech Falls: A new report shows that food- and agtech startups raised nearly $20 billion in 2019. While up over 250 percent in the past five years, total funding had fallen 4.8 percent from 2018. Startups operating closer to the farmer and in the supply chain were found to have seen a larger increase in funding, largely driven by meat and dairy alternatives and vertical farming.


The Return of Millet: As the water demands of rice becomes increasingly taxing for farmers in India, one group is promoting a traditional, nutritious crop: millet. Targeting women farmers specifically, the group provides seeds, market access, and support for machine purchases.   

Seeing the Forest for the Crops: A new study discusses the numerous benefits of agroforestry—the integration of trees with crops. Agroforestry can promote food stability through supporting companion crops, fight disease through increased fruit production, support economies through increased tree products, and all while helping the environment.

Grandmothers fighting Climate Change: A state government in India is using smart farming to empower rural women. Poor women farmers, traditionally relegated to menial labor-intensive tasks, have showcased a shrewd ability to take charge and adapt to warmer summers and wetter monsoons. Officials are bringing them new knowledge and technology through targeted extension and outreach services.


Hello (Deere) Tractor: John Deere has partnered with Hello Tractors to boost mechanization and credit access for smallholder farmers. The African startup will retrofit John Deere’s tractors with technology that captures equipment usage data, which farmers can then leverage to prove creditworthiness when securing bank loans. The program is being piloted in Kenya and Ghana with 400 tractors.    

Opinion – Fighting Food Loss: To win the fight against food waste and loss, small and local solutions should be joined with high-tech, global solutions that take inspiration from ecosystems. The opportunity exists to create circular food systems that will withstand and combat future challenges.

Growing Nickel: A research team at the University of Melbourne is harvesting nickel from plants that grow in mineral rich soils. They have identified 700 types of plants that collect the soil’s nickel and hoard it in their bodies. The project envisions a future in which minerals are sustainably farmed instead mined and smelted, thereby preventing land pollution while mitigating rising levels of carbon-dioxide.


Troubled Trade: As top experts have warned in the past two months, the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) has backed-up trade for US farmers. Restricted shipping routes due to the outbreak have significantly decreased orders for some US exports, affecting many US farmers. While the Administration initially claimed that the coronavirus outbreak would not affect implementation of the Phase One China deal and thus further MFP payments to US farmers were likely unnecessary, President Trump recently acknowledged that the USDA would disburse further subsidies to farmers if expected exports do not come to fruition.

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

Out of the Frying Pan: Wholesale prices of ginger, garlic, and chili are the latest to feel the heat from the novel coronavirus outbreak in China. Bottlenecks at ports have delayed shipments by two to three weeks. Impacts on other products, such as dried onions and tomato paste, are expected in the future.  

Protected Palm: In response to consumers, PepsiCo has announced a new policy prohibiting purchase of palm oil from any supplier linked to deforestation in the last 4 years. The prohibition applies to companies in joint ventures with the company as well, a move rare in the industry. 

 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

Envisioning the Future of Extension
Date: 4-5 March
Location: Washington, DC

Interdrought 2020
Date: 9-13 March
Location: Mexico City, Mexico

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

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.