April 24, 2020

Global Food for Thought: WFP Warning | Interregional Trade | Calls to Action

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A Dire Warning from the World Food Programme

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) released a new report warning the number of people facing acute food insecurity could double this year due to the current COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, 135 million people were in crisis, the highest in the four years the WFP has released its Global Report on Food Crises. The predicted figure for 2020--265 million--is a devastating increase. Drivers of acute food insecurity such as conflict, climate change, and economic crises will be exacerbated by the pandemic.

National lockdowns prevent the movement of farmers and disrupt supply chains, cause major losses in tourism revenue, and reduce remittances sent home by migrant workers. A WFP spokesperson estimated that $1.9 billion is needed from donor countries. The Executive Director of WFP USA, David Beasley, has warned that without immediate action, 300,000 people could die of starvation per day for the next three months. 

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

A girl of one of the migrant workers family from Myanmar who lost their jobs, lines up for free foods from volunteers following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Bangkok, Thailand. (REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun)


Improved Poultry and a Learning Opportunity: For many smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, indigenous chickens are vital source of nutrition and income that requires little minimal investment. These chickens are under threat from Newcastle Disease virus, which can have a 100 percent mortality rate in affected flocks. In the latest Field Notes post, the Feed the Future Genomics to Improve Poultry Innovation Lab explains how they apply cutting edge genomics to improve Newcastle Disease resistance, thus protecting smallholders' livelihoods. If you're in the mood to learn more after reading the Lab's piece, you're in luck! Our Women, Peace, and Security Fellow Katelyn Jones will be hosting a 3-week reading group (starting the week of May 4) on gender and international security. Apply by May 1 to learn why using a gender lens is critical in international politics. 

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

LIVE STREAM: From Islam to Oil: Inside Saudi Arabia’s Influence
Date: April 28
Time: 1 pm CT

LIVE STREAM: Protecting the US Political System from Pandemic Threats
Date: May 11
Time: 1 pm CT

LIVE STREAM: Playing Fair by Embracing Gender Equity in Sport
Date: May 12
Time: 11 am CT

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


Seawater Encroaching: High levels of seawater spilling into the freshwater Mekong Delta in Vietnam have caused significant issues for the area’s agriculture production, which traditionally relies on the delta. The delta includes 65,000 square kilometers of fertile riverbeds. This year’s increased sea water is damaging the riverbeds, killing fish and shrimp, and making successful rice production difficult. 

Calling Rain: There are many constraints on providing smallholder farmers in developing economies with accurate rainfall information. Researchers are using the wireless connections between cellphone towers to accurately estimate rainfall. Because cellphone towers are already transmitting data in many remote areas, this technique could provide a low-cost compliment to rain gauges, radars, and satellites, to provide farmers with accurate weather information.

Interregional Trade for Food Security: For East African nations already reeling from two generations of desert locusts, which some are now referring to as “Locust-19,” supply chain disruptions could be lethal. There are other ways to shore up food security beyond international assistance, however. According to the FAO, interregional trade within the African continent could mitigate some of the damage wrought by global supply chain disruptions and maintain food supplies.  

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

A Continental Trade Agreement: The African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA) was created last year by the fifty-five member states of the African Union. ACFTA is meant to create a continent-wide market for goods and services. Layered bureaucracy and conflicting national regulations have hindered intra-Africa trade in the past. As global trade becomes increasingly difficult, however, the ACFTA could form an important foundation for increasing intra-continental trade and food security.  

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

The Benefits of Going Digital: Integrating big data into agricultural land use could pave the way for a more sustainable food system, a new study reports. Predictive modelling, AI, and sensors could be used to increase biodiversity and reduce nutrient pollution, if adoption is incentivized for farmers. For example, if fertilizer were applied based on yield stability and demand, rather than uniform application on a whole field, groundwater contamination in the Midwest could be reduced by over one third.    


Expanding Assistance: In order to combat the loss of income for the daily-wage workers that make up large portions of their economies, a number of South and Southeast Asian countries have begun to expand their assistance programs. Food provisions are being distributed in Bangladesh, Myanmar, and the Philippines and India has begun distributing cash sums in addition to increased food rations. 
SEE ALSO: India's Coronavirus Crisis Hits Farmers


An Essential Blend: A new study by the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics is seeking to address the protein and micronutrient deficiencies faced by billions of people around the world. The study found that a blend of legumes and millets can provide all essential amino acids, as well as high levels of protein and other micronutrients. The research further determined the ideal blend to be a 3:1 millet to legume ratio.  

Bee Intelligence: Bees are essential for 35 percent of food crops and as much as 75 percent of the world’s flowering plants. The Word Bee Project utilizes real-time sensors such as microphones and cameras to determine hive strength as well as threats to bee populations, which is then automatically analyzed by the connected artificial intelligence systems. This information is used to help farmers and governments address declining bee populations.


A Call to Action: Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS), in addition to Sens. Bob Casey (D-PA), John Boozman (R-AR), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), sent a bipartisan letter to Secs. Perdue and Pompeo supporting uninterrupted US international food aid amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter notes the importance of ensuring a robust food supply chain to food-insecure populations globally, and urges efficient administration and prompt obligation of program funding. 

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

Calling for G20 Action: A joint statement by the World Bank, WFP, IFAD, and the UN FAO at the G20 conference calls on global leaders to prioritize food security during the current pandemic. The statement highlights how import barriers lead to food stockpiling and food chain disruptions through movement limitations. The statement also calls for agriculture to be considered an essential business.

Opinion: Checking in On a Legacy of Hunger Alleviation: Bob Dole is worried about the impact of the coronavirus disease pandemic on global hunger. This concern is nothing new for the man who, alongside his friend George McGovern, enacted numerous policy supports for improving global child nutrition. One of the biggest impacts, the McGovern-Dole global school feeding program, has provided millions of children with not only a good lunch, but the energy to learn. 

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

Local Prices Rising: The Democratic Republic of the Congo is experiencing large increases in food prices due to supply chain disruptions. Salt prices have risen by 88 percent, oil by 57 percent, and potatoes by 50 percent. When combined with the loss of economic activity due to lockdowns, food insecurity concerns are coming to the forefront.

A Sour Decline: A decline in ethanol consumption is putting considerable strain on Brazil’s sugar industry. Brazil is the world’s second largest producer of ethanol. Global travel restrictions have significantly decreased demand. It is estimated that up to 30 percent of Brazilian sugar and ethanol companies may need to stop operations.  

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

Food Talk Live: Vimlendra Sharan
Date: April 24
Time: 5 pm EST

Improving Prenatal Nutrition:  Making the Case for Multiple Micronutrient Supplements
Date: April 28
Time: 9 am CT

Mitigating Africa’s and Asia’s Locust Infestation amid the Covid-19 Pandemic
Date: April 29
Time: 10 pm EST


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


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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.