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Labor, Livelihoods, and Biometric Data

Global Food for Thought by Julia Whiting
a fingerprint on a slide

Check out our weekly round up of the top news and research in food, agriculture, and global development.

Top Story

Labor Concerns Return

One year ago, farms around the world began to feel the effects of local lockdowns that disrupted seasonal labor. Facing travel restrictions that prevented both intra- and inter-country travel, farms found ways to adapt using local workers, or left food unharvested. Governments quickly reacted with exemptions for migrant agricultural workers. As the pandemic continued, COVID-19 infections became an even larger problem for farm workers than travel restrictions.

Despite the time that has passed, the pandemic continues to highlight vulnerabilities and risks in the food system. Rising cases and COVID-19 precautions are still a problem for agriculture. Migrant farm workers often have fewer formal protections than workers in other industries, and often face conditions that make them more vulnerable in the pandemic. In Western Europe, fruit and vegetable harvests have begun. Farms are struggling with the financial and organizational burdens of distancing and equipment requirements. In the US, vaccination efforts have spread to farm workers, providing some hope. 

Council Insights

Precision Development

International development is a classic "wicked problem": it lacks a clear definition and therefore clear solutions with ever-changing variables in ill-structured domains. In their latest guest post, Scientific Animations Without Borders (SAWBO) explains how precision targeting—finding the right topic, for the right audience, at the right time—can help.

SEE ALSO: What’s next for the Farmers to Families Food Box Program?

Food & Agriculture

One in Ten

A humanitarian report has found that as many as ten percent of Kenyans are facing crisis levels of food insecurity. Lackluster rain from October to December, combined with the ongoing locust plague and COVID-19 disruptions have all contributed to the situation. With forecasts predicting a below-average upcoming rainy season, food insecurity is likely to increase.

Locusts in Migration

Swarms of desert locusts are expected to affect 1.5 million acres of Iranian agricultural land by mid-summer. Iran's Plant Protection Organization has already distributed $3.6 million to affected provinces and requested an additional $24 million from the government. Iran has also received two shipments of pesticides from India to fight the locusts.

Rebuilding Livelihoods

New survey data on farmers, processors, and small businesses around the world reveal the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic. In November 2020, two thirds of surveyed farmers reported receiving lower prices than usual, and nearly half struggled to find buyers.

Deeper Dive

A Rich History of Agriculture

People living near Iran's Zagros Mountains cultivated plants like lentils, peas, and barley 12,000 years ago. Over time, they moved from simply planting the seeds of wild plants to selecting seeds based on traits, thus beginning plant breeding. Evidence also suggests that Iran is the site of goat domestication.

Farm workers pick asparagus during the coronavirus disease outbreak in Spain.
REUTERS / Juan Medina

Farm workers pick asparagus during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Torre del Burgo, Spain.

Data Crunch

Biometric ID Fails

Aadhaar, the biometric system used by the Indian government to link people's iris and fingerprint scans to their benefits, such as food rations, may be increasing food insecurity. System failures and unreliable internet and electricity often deprive people of receiving much needed subsidized food. Additionally, the burden of linking existing ration cards to Aadhaar lies with individuals, many of whom struggle to access the necessary technology to do so. 


Trust the People

A new study on forest governance in Latin America and the Caribbean shows that territories that are governed by indigenous and tribal peoples, which span 320 to 380 million hectares, have lower average deforestation rates than other forests in every Latin American country. Formal recognition of their territorial rights can not only help prevent deforestation, but also greatly reduce CO2 emissions.

Big Ideas

Grass to Cash

Farmers in eastern Kenya have started to mitigate the challenges of rain-fed agriculture by growing Brachiaria. This highly nutritious, pest-resistant grass is known to increase milk production in livestock by as much as 2.5 times. With a 10-fold increase in farmer incomes, Brachiaria grass has boosted food security for farmer families affected climate change, poverty, and locust attacks.

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DC Report

Mending Bridges

Biden released the first of his two-part American Jobs Plan. It includes improvements for agriculture and rural America including total broadband access and rebuilding outdated infrastructure. The plan also features a commitment to supporting agricultural resource management and climate-friendly technologies, hoping to provide new economic opportunities for farmers and positioning the agricultural sector to lead the nation to net-zero emissions.

Big Actors

Corporate Wave

The IPES-Food and Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration have issued a joint report warning of a "corporate tidal wave" threatening food security and the environment. Handing over systems and supply chains to bio-digital firms and data platforms could run the risk of turning resources and food supplies into “strategic assets” controlled by a few corporations.

Trade & Commodities

Rivals in Trade

Pakistan has lifted its almost two-year ban on sugar and cotton from rival India. India is the world’s largest cotton producer and the second largest sugar producer, and offers both goods to Pakistani markets for reduced prices. This new export opportunity will reduce surpluses in India and help lower skyrocketing sugar prices in Pakistan as the holy month of Ramadan approaches.