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Murder Hornets, Lavender, and School Meals

Global Food for Thought by Julia Whiting
Murder hornets in a tree

Our weekly round up of the week's top news and research in food, agriculture, and global development.

Top Story

Schools are Key to Global Food Security

The Global Child Nutrition Foundation (GCNF) released the results of its 2019 Global Survey of School Meal Programs© in a new report. The survey is the GCNF’s first attempt to begin consistently and comprehensively documenting school meal programs around the world. Drawing responses from 103 countries, the report finds that over 80 percent have at least one large-scale school meal program, serving 297.3 million children. More children get fed when school meal programs are included as a line item in national budgets. The school meal programs are significant job creators, especially for women around the world. GCNF’s report further underscores the profound impact that COVID-19 school closures had on food security, depriving hundreds of millions of children of meals.

Council Insights

Too Much of a Bad Thing

Ultra-processed foods, designed to leave us craving more, contribute to a food swamp many consumers are mired in, argues author Robert Paarlberg in new commentary. As the consequences of over-consumption of unhealthy food grow, Paarlberg calls on the UN to address food excess, alongside food access.

Food and Agriculture

The Magical Fruit

New research suggests that the introduction of grain legumes to rotations of cereal and oilseed crops can deliver nutrition to humans and more digestible protein to livestock at lower environmental cost. Leguminous plants not only produce their own nitrogen from the air, but also leave behind nitrogen in the soil, and can thereby cut the external nitrogen requirements for crops by half.

Feasts and Fasts

As the month of Ramadan begins, about one in six Arabs do not have enough to eat. Food insecurity is most severe in Syria and Yemen, but many other nations are worried about food prices. Lebanon has seen prices rice by 417 percent, and the Egyptian and UAE governments are worried about future increases.

More Unreliable Rains

Eighty percent of India’s annual rainfall occurs during the 4-month monsoon season. New research highlights how climate change is making monsoon rains more erratic and intense, challenging the agricultural sector which makes up 20 percent of the nation’s economy.

Deeper Dive

What is India's monsoon?

The Indian monsoon is a wind system that reverses directions every six months. Dry air comes from the northeast in cool months and winds from Indian Ocean bring rains in warm months. The southwest monsoons have two distinct branches, one from the Arabian Sea and the other from the Bay of Bengal. Although many regions of the world experience monsoon seasons, India has the most pronounced monsoon climate.

Kindergarteners social distancing in Bangkok
REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Kindergarten students from the Wichuthit school eat their lunch during a rehearsal social distancing and measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) ahead of nationwide schools reopening in Bangkok, Thailand in June 2020.

Data Crunch

The Computer Tasting Tea

COVID-19 presents a unique threat to the elite group of industry tasters, who set standards for products like tea, chocolate, and olive oil. Silicon Valley startups are working to disrupt these million-dollar tastebuds and replace them with machine learning. One company is trying to clone the genes of humans’ 400 olfactory receptors to create taste “fingerprints,” and a new way to standardize product flavor.


Lavender Fields

More than 200 famers of the Doda district in the Indian union territory of Jammu and Kashmir have shifted from growing maize to lavender, a drought-resilient crop that can be grown on poor soil and needs little water, in an effort to cope with the climate crisis. Lavender farming has high returns—one hectare of land generates 30 to 45 liters of the highly demanded lavender oil—and allows village women who are not allowed to work away from home cultivate lavender around their homes and become self-reliant.

Big Ideas

Food Coalition Gaining Scheme

As the G20 summit approaches new strategies for fighting hunger and preventing a COVID-19 food crisis are being proposed. One of those is the Food Coalition, a global alliance focused on unified action to build sustainable and resilient food systems, especially for the world’s most vulnerable. It aims to encourage G20 members to establish joint action plans for fighting hunger and recovering from COVID-19.

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DC Report

End of the Line

The Biden administration has decided to not continue The Farmers to Families Food Box program citing high costs, wasted food, and delivery issues. Secretary Vilsack has said they will not be replacing the program and instead will focus on expanding already existing food assistance programs. Despite issues with the program, food banks and farm groups say that the program helped prevent a potentially greater crisis.

Big Actors

Hunting the Hornets

Scientists and officials in the US and Canada are gearing up to track, trap, and eventually eradicate non-native Asian giant hornets from the continent. These are the so-called “murder hornets” that have a large appetite for livestock and other insects, as well as the endangered honeybees, entire hives of which can be wiped out by a handful of these hornets in a short amount of time.

Trade and Commodities

None by Sea

New Zealand is set to ban the export of live cows and other farm animals by sea, effective two years from now, due to welfare concerns. The decision comes in the wake of an accident last year when a China-bound ship carrying 5,800 cattle sank in stormy weather, killing the animals and over 40 crew members.

About the Author
Research Associate
Council expert Julia Whiting
Julia Whiting joined the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in 2019 and is a research associate with the Global Food and Agriculture Program. She supports the development of research reports on global food security issues as well as coordinating digital engagement and content for the program.
Council expert Julia Whiting