Bracing for the Future

Foresight & Scenario Analysis for Food Systems in South Asia

IFPRI-South Asia and ACIAR’s SDIP conducted a learning and professional development workshop for strengthening capacities on food systems foresight. The event brought together over 60 practitioners from Nepal, Bangladesh, and India in Kathmandu from the 11th-14th of February 2019. The workshop is part of a two-year foresight exercise focused on understanding the food system in the Eastern Gangetic Plain.

It also followed the launch of the Himalayan Monitoring and Assessment Programme’s (HIMAP) ‘The Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment’. The Assessment addresses the key environmental and socio-economic pillars for sustainable development in the Hindu Kush and Himalaya regions. It is a comprehensive assessment of the current knowledge of the region and set the stage for the ‘Bracing for the Future’ event in Kathmandu with SDIP.

Some of the fastest growing economies in the region, Bangladesh, India, and Nepal offer new opportunities for transformative change in food systems. However, these are inter-linked with major challenges in the development of sustainable, equitable, and healthy food systems, and unpredictable drivers and uncertainties. Understanding these uncertainties and exploring the potential pathways for change need the collaborative involvement of all stakeholders, and a systems and foresight approach.

The four-day exercise had two primary goals: the first was to create and nurture greater collaboration between the regional partners, and the second was to start a collaborative process to identify the preferred and necessary transformative pathways needed to make the regional food system more sustainable, resilient, and better serving the needs of the population.

Organized around the food systems foresight framework of the Foresight4Food Initiative, the workshop was structured as follows:

  1. Day 1: Introduction to foresight and food systems for the EGP
  2. Day 2: Food systems and foresight methodology, modelling and data contributions
  3. Day 3: Mapping food system dynamics, and identifying and prioritizing drivers, trends, and uncertainties
  4. Day 4: Developing scenarios for food systems and identifying future collaborations and pathways of taking foresight forward in the region

The workshop objectives were achieved with a set of short informative presentations that synthesized the status of knowledge and participatory sessions on mapping food system dynamics and scenario-building exercises.  The participants were divided in to four location groups, with each group tasked with identifying a key area where foresight can be applied in their location, and how SDIP might be able to support a future exercise, and what steps might be needed to inform policy decisions.

Andrew Campbell, CEO for ACIAR highlighted the necessity of effective partnerships and ensuring the integration of foresight with wider food systems efforts for achieving sustainability, equitability and health for the future. These would remain a running theme throughout the workshop. Professor Prabhu Pingali set the foundation for the workshop by presenting the evidence on crop productivity, poverty, health, urbanization, and the regional nuances in South Asia. The role and importance of smallholder farmers and the middle-class in the region was emphasised, particularly in reference with transitioning value chains. Referring to the ‘Agriculture and Food Systems to 2050’ book published in 2018, Professor Pingali contextualized the importance of agricultural and food research for addressing the complex challenges the region and the world faces for the future. The presentation provided useful grounding for the rich picturing exercises for the day, where the participants developed a food systems map for their respective locations.

The importance of data was built on in Day 2 with an overview of key models and data sets that are commonly used in food systems, and an in depth analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of modelling. The IMPACT and APSIM models were used to discuss how models can be used more robustly and demystified terminology used in model-based data analysis. Other presentations examined the critical uncertainties around climate change, and presented examples where models have been used to inform decision-making in South Asia, specifically with the CCAFS project. These presentations were used to help the participants think of the data and modelling needs for addressing the food system challenges in their locations, and understanding the capabilities of models and existing data sets.

Key experts in the area led thematic sessions on the water, food, and energy nexus, women in food systems, agriculture, labour, migration, and livelihoods, and regional trade and markets. The outcomes from these groups were charted with causal loop diagrams to examine connections, reinforcing linkages, and dampening loops in the food systems. The scenario planning and visioning exercises built on these practical sessions to help the participants finalize their project briefs and identify preferable and plausible transformation pathways for the future.

The synthesis presentations and project briefs were discussed on Day 4, with each group presenting their ideas, the processes, data, and collaborations needed to achieve the, and their reflections on the foresight process. The event concluded with discussions on how the project ideas could be taken forward through the SDIP’s existing process, a reiteration of the value of foresight if it carried out with existing work in food systems, and a reflection on the necessity of collaboration in addressing the complex challenges that lie ahead.


Blog by Saher Hasnain - Research and Community of Practice Coordinator