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The Pig Pandemic, Reforestation, & Fraudulent Seeds

Global Food for Thought by Julia Whiting
Pigs in their enclosure in the Dominican Republic

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

Top Story

The Pig Pandemic

From 2018-2019, a devastating outbreak of African swine fever (ASF) wiped out roughly one quarter of the world’s pigs, including approximately half of China’s herd. This pig pandemic has quietly simmered in the year and a half since, as the COVID-19 pandemic has pressured global supply chains, threatened livelihoods, and driven food prices and food insecurity higher. So what is the state of ASF now?

In China, companies have started building “hog hotels” in an effort to prevent further outbreaks. Pigs are China’s primary source of animal protein, and these multistory vertical farms use security cameras, in-house veterinary services, and other technologies and precautions to protect their herds. Yet as China tries to contain the virus, other nations have seen it spread. Poland has seen increasing outbreaks, and Cameroon’s West region recently issued a ban on the importation, sale, and distribution of pig products in response to unusual pig deaths. A new outbreak in the Dominican Republic is raising fresh concerns over a potential regional outbreak in the Caribbean and beyond.

Council Insights

Eye of the Beholder

“America’s recent behavior signals that ‘ally’ is in the eye of the beholder,” write Chicago Council public opinion experts in a new brief. It unpacks results from a survey of US foreign policy experts and opinion leaders, finding that while experts value US treaty allies highly, that support is not unconditional.

Food & Agriculture

Iranian Drought

Iran is facing severe water shortages that are now causing unrest in the country. Long term agricultural water management issues have taken their toll—Iran has one of the highest groundwater depletion rates in the world. Drought and climate change have compounded the issue, leading to the current crisis.

SEE ALSO: Desalination and other water solutions

Fraudulent Seeds

Earlier this year, farmers in Kenya suffered millions in losses from what they believe were fraudulent seeds. In response to the issue, village startups are seeking to authenticating seeds and to make quality farming materials more accessible to small-holder farmers.

Reforestation and Rising Prices

A new report from Oxfam warns that a reliance on reforestation to fight climate change may drive up food prices. For trees alone to completely offset global emissions, an area equivalent to all land farmed on the planet would need to be reforested. Planting more than one fifth of that area would begin to disrupt agriculture.

Deeper Dive

How many trees do we need?

At least 1.6 billion hectares of land would need to be reforested to reach net zero emissions. That is about five times the area of India, a little over 1.5 times the area of China, and 13 times the area of South Africa.

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Data Crunch


Epigenetics—the study of how chemical compounds and proteins can affect which genes are expressed without changing an underlying DNA sequence—could be the future of agriculture, aiding in sectors ranging from aquaculture to animal health, to crop growth. The tool has the potential to increase yield, make crops more resilient, and enhance flavor and nutrition.


Heatwave Harm

This year’s heatwave is causing significant damage to marine life. It is estimated that over one billion creatures in the Pacific northwest have died this week, ranging from starfish, to barnacles, to mussels.

Big Ideas

Lab-Grown Dairy

Startups all around the world are working to create imitation cow milk based on artificially reproducing the proteins in curds. Many scientists hope that imitation cow milk will allow more people to shift towards a more plant-based diet while also maintaining their current cultures and lifestyles. 

Sustainable Booze

Small distilleries are increasingly experimenting with new categories of spirits made from diverse and novel ingredients such as plum pits and other parts of plants that might otherwise get thrown away.

DC Report

USTR Shares Strategy 

In an interview with Agri-Pulse, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai confirmed that the US will continue pushing Mexico to approve GMOs and is cautiously optimistic about agricultural trade progress with China. 

Big Actors

Beyond a Green Revolution

The Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute released an open letter to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Signed by over 500 farming and faith organizations, the letter calls out practices such as monocultures and chemical intensive farming and asks for investment in more regenerative agroecological approaches.

Amplifying Food Banks

Food banks have seen dramatic rises in demand for their services over the past year and a half. McKinsey joined forces with the Greater Chicago Food Depository and New Life Centers to boost local food distribution to those in need by using data analysis to support communities efficiently and equitably.

Trade & Commodities

The End of Opium Poppies

The opium poppy sector in the UK is on the brink of collapse after the government declined to issue a license necessary to continue exports of products to pharmaceutical manufacturers in the Netherlands and Australia.