Enhancing Foresight for Global Food Systems

Foresight is a key tool that governments, private sector and civil society can jointly use to better understand future risks and opportunities in food systems, explore possible futures and to adapt – before crises hit. In consultation with key actors, the Foresight4Food Initiative is being established to support enhanced foresight and scenario analysis for global food systems.

Foresight4Food aims to provide a mechanism for better analysis and synthesis of key trends and possible futures in global food systems and to support more informed and strategic dialogue between the private sector, government, science and civil society. Development of the Initiative was encouraged by key international organisations, leading research institutes, development agencies and business representatives who participated in a scoping meeting in Oxford in March 2017.

It will support, and not duplicate, the work of existing institutions and platforms dealing with food and agriculture issues by coordinated efforts providing foresight services and analysis to serve multiple purposes and groups. Resources have been secured to help mobilise the initiative and consult more extensively with a full range of actors, platforms and networks who have an interest in food systems foresight.

Start-up funding for the Initiative is being provided through the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), The Global Forum for Agricultural Research (GFAR)2, French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD)/University of Montpellier, and Oxford University3. The initiative has support from key global institutions including FAO and the CGIAR.

Development of the Initiative is being guided by a steering group of representatives from the Oxford meeting chaired by Dr Patrick Caron and Professor Tim Benton. An initial support unit for the initiative is being hosted by the Food Systems Group of the Environmental Change Institute of Oxford University led by Dr Jim Woodhill.

Foresight for Food in an Uncertain World

Multiple drivers are emerging that may radically affect global food systems. Collectively, these issues suggest the future of food systems is more uncertain than typically considered. This uncertainty calls for more forward-looking analysis, as “business as usual” projections of trends may not well forecast future conditions. This is the role of foresight and scenario analyses.

There have been many recent exercises looking to the future, yet making sense of them is difficult. They can paint a confused picture that does not aid policy analysis or societal understanding. There is, therefore, a critical need to collate, synthesise and promote best practice in this area. Foresight is a key tool that governments, private sector and civil society can jointly use to better understand future risks and opportunities in food systems, explore possible cutures and to adapt – before crises hit.

Yet, current foresight efforts are often fragmented or one-off and do not take full advantage of the complementarity of qualitative and quantitative approaches. Further, the science of foresight requires much better connecting with societal debate and policy dialogue to support change.