As part of its mandate to provide strategic guidance to the CGIAR system, the ISPC launched a foresight work stream in 2017 and inaugurated it with a workshop on “Threats and Opportunities to Agri-Food Systems in 2050.” The workshop, held in Portici, Italy on 7-8 April and co-hosted by the ISPC and Universita degli Studi di Napoli, was designed to tap expertise outside the CGIAR system for external perspectives on major trends and possible disruptions to the global food system to 2050. Eighteen papers were solicited and presented to a group of 32 international experts.
Prabhu Pingali, the ISPC Council member leading the foresight work stream, opened the proceedings by providing context for the workshop and describing the objectives of the foresight work stream, which will consist of a comprehensive analysis of major trends and drivers of agri-food systems and future opportunities for AR4D. He reminded participants that the food system is a chain whereby nutrients from the soil ultimately end up as nutrients in the body. Because each step in the chain is influenced by physical, regulatory, and policy environments, there is a need to examine major trends in the system as well as major disruptions that could affect it, and consider what both mean for the CGIAR.
The workshop was organized around three thematic sessions: i) Analysis of emerging threats and challenges; ii) New opportunities and scientific discovery, and iii) Trends in the agricultural sector.
The closing session of the workshop was devoted to a synthesis of the emerging findings. There was a consensus that a “perfect storm” of global threats and challenges exists that requires R&D and policy solutions, which the CGIAR can—and should—help provide. Areas highlighted include:
- Rising urbanization, global migration, the “depopulation” of rural areas, and the changing demographic structure of rural populations and smallholder farming. Is the Green Revolution paradigm still driving current thinking?
- Changing diets, food systems, the rapid rise in over-nutrition, and the epidemic of non-communicable diseases (NCDs)—even as we try to tackle stubbornly high malnutrition rates;
- Global environmental and sustainability challenges, including climate shocks and extreme events, environmental degradation, and biodiversity loss;
- Trade integration and the declining competitiveness of developing-country agriculture;
- A consideration of both demand and supply and the power balance between the production line and the end user
- A consideration of the problems of food loss as well as food waste in every aspect of the food system.
- The complexity and fragmentation of food systems, and the role of private industry vs. public investments in supporting the transformation of agri-food systems and their connections with other sectors.
- Disruptive innovation in science and technology, the role of the private industry and game changers across sectors and disciplines.
- The need for a long-term research portfolio to build a climate-resilient food system that takes into account the complexity of the food-water-energy nexus.
The papers presented in the workshop will be finalized and published in a book the ISPC will produce in 2018 on “Threats and Opportunities to Agri-Food Systems in 2050.” As a next step in the ISPC foresight work, CGIAR members will be invited to further develop the key outcomes of the workshop and provide inputs on the foresight process to help guide future strategies and priority setting of CGIAR research.