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Climate Famine, Seeds, and a Land Survey

Global Food for Thought by Julia Whiting
cow and farmer

Check out our round up of the week's top stories in food, agriculture, and global development!

Top Story

Food Crisis in Afghanistan

Unrest and a worsening drought have amplified conflicts over water and threaten the livelihoods of over 7 million farmers in Afghanistan, many of which are among the one in three Afghans experiencing food insecurity. Food prices have risen about 50 percent in recent days, and the WFP warns that millions of Afghans are at risk of starvation and will likely face a food crisis within the next month.

Council Insights

The New Semiconductors

Just as self-sufficiency in semiconductors was elevated as a priority for the Chinese government, seeds are receiving focus as the weak link in the nation’s food security goals. Andrea Durkin lays out the paths China is taking towards strengthening its seed breeding technologies and commercialization abilities in a new blog.

Food & Agriculture

Madagascar Facing Famine

Due to both the COVID-19 economic downturn and a crop failure in the South of Madagascar, hunger has risen to near-famine levels on the island. Crop failures are largely attributed to deteriorating soil quality and extreme drought. The UN is warning that Madagascar could experience the world’s first “climate change famine” if conditions do not improve.

Investment in Warming Climates

Climate change could make a cornucopia out of land that was once unproductive and frozen. It can also do great harm to regions that already feed millions. Some companies are hoping to benefit from warming climates by investing in land with future potential for agricultural production.

Farmland Shrinkage

The total arable land in China shrank by 6 percent from 2009-2019, according to the nation’s decennial survey of land use. Industrial and urban use has encroached on farmland, but some land has been converted to forests. A national plan to plant 36,000 sq km of forest by 2025 may shrink farmland even more.

Deeper Dive

What crops are grown in Madagascar?

Rice is the most widely cultivated food crop in Madagascar, and cassava, maize, and yams are important staple crops as well. Vanilla is the nation’s largest agricultural export, and its most renowned crop. Madagascar produced almost 60 percent of the world’s vanilla exports in 2019. The majority Malagasy vanilla is grown in the small, northeastern Sava region.

Data Crunch

Increasing Need for Food Aid

Ninety-one percent of food banks around the world saw an increase in demand for emergency food aid following food system disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent report by the Global FoodBanking Network. The data were drawn from almost 800 community-based food banks in 44 countries.

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Endangered Tree Species

Crop production, livestock farming, and timber logging are the top three causes of deforestation. A landmark study found that 17,500 tree species (30 percent) are now at risk of extinction.

Big Ideas

COVID-19 Recovery Visas

Trade associations representing UK’s food chain are urging the government to introduce a “COVID-19 Recovery Visa” to draw in overseas workers that can ease disruptions in the food supply chain. Calls for the visa come amid reports that up to 70,000 animals may be culled due to a labor shortage.

DC Report

Food Safety in the South

The USDA has waived a restriction on using SNAP benefits to purchase hot or prepared foods in Louisiana, as part of the Biden administration’s response to Hurricane Ida. Widespread power outages from the storm have rendered many families’ perishable food unsafe for consumption.

Big Actors

Indigenous Rights on Trial in Brazil

Deforestation across the Brazilian Amazon has surged in recent years. A case brought by the Xokleng people to reclaim territory in the South brings the potential to set a new precedent for land protection and indigenous rights in the region. The decision would influence an estimated 800 existing native land claims.

Food Aid in Southern Africa

The International Federation of the Red Cross requires $8 million to aid millions of people in Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, and Namibia suffering from food insecurity following locust outbreaks and drought.

Trade & Commodities

No River, No Trade

Historic drought affecting the Paraguay River has resulted in drastic load cuts and delays in the country’s trade of key agricultural commodities. The phenomenon, which began three years ago, is projected to last until at least 2022.

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