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Superweeds, Dams, and Weedkilling Robots

Global Food for Thought by Julia Whiting
An Iraqi farmer stands in a dry field.

Check out our weekly roundup of the week's top stories in food, agriculture, and global development.

Top Story

Iran's Dams, Iraq's Consequences

Iran has been building dams to conserve water as grapples with years of drought. Downstream in Iraq, farmers are suffering the consequences. Increasing water scarcity has caused crop failure and many farmers fear they will have to abandon their land. As a result, Iranian agricultural exports to Iraq have increased. Water scarcity has sparked recent protests in both nations, and some have predicted more water-related conflict in northern, central, and southern Iraq over the next year.

Council Insights

Reshaping the Global System

"China’s latest Five-Year Plan and related policies make clear that China is looking well past the current environment to shape the global food system in ways that support its own long-term food security," writes Nonresident Fellow Andrea Durkin in a new blog. Read more to find out what the consequences could be for global grain trade.

Food & Agriculture

Oil Cleanup

An oil spill off the coast of Trinidad is threatening the region’s already vulnerable marine life and fishing industry. Fishermen who watched the attempted cleanup noted that it was not sufficient and have spoken out about the lack of accountability in the situation.


The Palmer amaranth is a superweed of sorts and is one of many plants that is developing a resistance to certain chemicals in herbicides. Farmers and scientists are struggling to juggle environmental concerns with the need to eliminate weeds that hurt crops.

Mass Fish Deaths

Hundreds of dead fish have washed up in Spain from one of Europe’s largest saltwater lagoons. Prosecutors have launched an investigation into the situation, but many fear it is a result of extreme eutrophication.

Deeper Dive

What is eutrophication?

Eutrophication is the process in which water becomes enriched with excess nutrients, increasing plant and algae growth. Algal blooms and low-oxygen (hypoxic) waters can lead to dead zones and ocean acidification. Some algal blooms produce toxins, which lower water quality. Agricultural and industrial runoff are often responsible for higher nutrient levels in water.

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Data Crunch

Weedkiller Robots

Weedkilling robots can destroy up to 100,000 weeds per hour and offer farms an alternative to pesticides and herbicides. Half of the US’ largest vegetable growers now use robot weeders in their fields. Cost and battery life remain obstacles to broader adoption by smaller farms.


Climate Threatens Brazilian Ag

Brazilian agriculture is experiencing soaring prices in coffee and sugar after enduring the worst drought in nearly a century and unusually harsh frosts, followed by La Nina phenomenon that threatens to bring even drier conditions. Some coffee growers have responded by shifting production to a more bitter coffee bean that is more tolerant of rising temperatures.

Big Ideas

Breaking Up Big Ag

The accelerating concentration of the agricultural industry has led to accusations of anti-competitive practices such as commodity price fixing, raising questions on whether it is time to pass stricter antitrust laws.

DC Report

SNAP Increase

US President Biden announced a more than 25 percent increase to benefits in the US Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This is the largest permanent benefits increase in the program’s history.

Big Actors

Roundup Legal Battle Continues

Bayer, seeking to avoid billions of dollars in legal costs, has filed a petition with the US Supreme court to overturn the $25 million award to a California man who claims the German group’s glyphosate-based weedkiller gave him cancer.

Trade & Commodities

Livestock Cover for Smugglers

Ships carrying large numbers of livestock are increasingly being used as a cover for smugglers. The animals are typically kept in terrible conditions, with reports that they are often starved or not even capable of standing.

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