January 17, 2020

Global Food for Thought: Women in Research | Sea Cucumbers | Trade Deals

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New Trade Deal, New Opportunities

President Trump signed phase one of a trade deal with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He this week. Long awaited by US farmers, there remains some skepticism over what the deal will change. Twenty percent tariffs remain on both sides. The agreement states that China will purchase $36.5 billion in US agricultural products in 2020 and $43.5 billion in US agricultural products in 2021. But the Vice Premier’s declaration that China will buy US products “based on market conditions” has already the market reacting, with the price of soybeans falling to a one-month low. The EU trade commissioner was dismissive of the agreement, suggesting that the most of the benefits from the deal will be political rather than economic.

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

Ahmed Ibrahim, 30, an Ethiopian farmer attempts to fend off desert locusts as they fly in his khat farm on the outskirt of Jijiga in Somali region, Ethiopia January 12, 2020. (REUTERS/Giulia Paravicini)

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

A Woman’s Place is in the Lab: African Women in Agricultural Research and Development is spearheading the One Planet Fellowship, an initiative training 630 African and European scientists to help smallholder adaptation to climate change through a gender lens. Women make up almost half of farmers in Africa and produce up to 80 percent of basic food crops. Over half of the first cohort of fellows are female.

EU Invests in Smallholders: The European Union has committed €7 million aid for agricultural projects in Liberia. The funds will be used to improve the income security and resilience of cocoa growers and to set up an extension program that will help smallholder farmers sustainably intensify their production and improve food nutrition.


Emerging Leaders Program Class of 2021 Applications Open: In this leadership development and global affairs training program, Emerging Leaders will engage in a thought-provoking year of dialogue, global skills training and insights, exposure to global leaders and policymaking through targeted site visits and special events, and opportunities to become part of Chicago’s global network. Apply today!


Maize Madness: Organizations in Kenya are working with international researchers to regulate the country’s overconsumption of its staple food – maize. Officials say the crop is highly susceptible to aflatoxins, deadly toxins released by fungus which cling to crops when they are not handled properly.

Swine Fever Jitters: The United States and Western Europe are taking stringent measures to shield against the African swine fever epidemic that has decimated pig herds across Asia and Eastern Europe, taking one quarter of the world’s pigs. Officials in France have erected 82 miles of fencing to keep out wild boar while the United States has beefed up sniffer dogs and customs checks at ports of entry.

Queen Bees of Food Security: A project in the United Arab Emirates is seeking to crossbreed bees in pursuit of a queen bee that can survive in desert climates. The “Emirati Queen Bee Project” is part of a larger World Bee Project, which is also working to bring AI and cloud computing to bee keeping. Sensors placed on hives can tell beekeepers about the health of the hive and its reaction to temperature changes.  

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

What are Aflatoxins? Aflatoxins are produced by several species of fungi of the Aspergillus genus. The fungi can be found on peanuts, wheat, tree nuts, and cottonseed as well as maize. In addition to exposure through contaminated plants, people can become exposed to the toxins by meat or dairy products from animals that have eaten contaminated feed. Mycotoxins—toxic compounds produced by fungi—cannot be destroyed through cooking contaminated food. Chronic exposure to aflatoxins causes liver cancer and could reduce nutrient absorption in children. It has been estimated that 26,000 people in African die each year due to liver cancer caused by aflatoxin exposure.

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

Hot Hot Heat: Data collected by NASA and NOAA reveal that 2019 was the second hottest year on record globally, and that the past decade has been the hottest on record as well. Higher temperatures are wreaking havoc on weather patterns across the globe, leading to more extreme weather events. These have already had devastating effects on farmers around the world, from Nebraska to Zimbabwe.


Locusts Swarm On: The Kenyan government reports that its attempts to contain the influx of locusts from Ethiopia and Somalia have largely failed. Aerially spraying pesticides to kill locusts has proved ineffective after vast swarms of the pest were still seen ravaging crops. Nearby Rwanda and Botswana are on high alert as they could be the next targets.

Ashen Harvest: The first eruption of the Taal volcano in the Philippines since 1977 has already caused more than $11 million of damage to crops. Nearby farmers growing pineapples, bananas, and coffee fear that their harvests will be unsellable.


Opinion: Cultured Meat Startups Should Work with Farmers: Although farmers and manufacturers of cultured meat are often pitted against each other, there may be benefits from collaboration. While many consumers regard lab-grown meat with suspicion, bringing farmers into the process could win over skeptical consumers.

Sea Cucumbers for Food Security: The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is helping to diversify the bioeconomy of Zanzibar. The FAO introduced the country’s 25000 seaweed farmers, most of whom are women, to the lucrative sea cucumber crop after climate change compromised the supply of their staple product.


USMCA Passes the Senate: A new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico has passed the Senate in an 89-10 vote. The United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA) has been sent to the White House to be signed by President Trump. The agreement still needs passage in the Canadian House of Commons before it can go into effect. US dairy farmers are looking forward to increased access to the Canadian market, provided for by the agreement.

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

Palm Problems: Relations between India and Malaysia are strained after the former imposed curbs on imports of refined palm oil and informally asked traders to halt all palm oil imports from the latter. Malaysia’s objections to recent Indian policies are believed to be at the root of the dispute. India was the biggest buyer of Malaysian palm oil last year, and the loss of the market has left Malaysia scrambling for other trade partners.

Short and Sweet Supply: Adverse weather conditions in the world’s largest and fourth-largest sugar producers, India and Thailand, have led to smaller predicted harvests and a rise in global prices for the commodity. This follows several years of depressed prices caused by oversupply. Whether sugar prices continue to rise is in part up to Brazil, depending on how much sugar the nation diverts to ethanol.

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

The Wisdom of Indigenous Foodways
Date: 22 January
Location: Scottsdale, Arizona
Edible Institute

Date: 25-26 January
Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico

Trust in Food Symposium
Date: 29-30 January
Location: Chicago, IL

Foster our Future
Date: 5 February
Location: Washington, DC

Food Talk Live
Date: 18 February
Location: Chicago, IL

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

Global Food Security Symposium
Date: 26 March
Location: Washington, DC

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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.