To 2030: Shaping the future of global food systems

How will food systems nutritiously and sustainably feed 8.5 billion people in 2030, by which time the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are set?

That was the focal question of a scenarios analysis recently carried out by the World Economic Forum.

note: This report is worth reading in full or, if pressed for time, do read the two-page Executive Summary from which I’m quoting extensively below.

As they point out, a scenarios analysis is built around the forces of change that will most profoundly and unpredictably impact the focal question. For their report, these included topics ranging from disruptive technologies to migration. Their experts chose market connectivity and demand shift as the two most critical uncertainties for the WEF analysis:

Unchecked consumption: With high market connectivity & resource intensive consumption, this is a world of high GDP growth with high environmental cost.

Survival of the richest: In a world of resource-intensive consumption and disconnected markets, there is a sluggish global economy and a stark division between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’.

Open-source sustainability: A future linking highly connected markets and resource efficient consumption has increased international cooperation and innovation, but may leave some behind.

Local is the new global: In a world of fragmented local markets with resource-efficient consumption, resource-rich countries focus on local foods, whereas import-dependent regions become hunger hotspots.

As the WEF says, any of these scenarios is possible; early signs are present in our world today, and any of them could become a reality by 2030. Together, they demonstrate that today’s food systems require a fundamental transformation to meet human need within planetary boundaries in 2030.

They add these insights from the scenarios:

  • Consumption will make or break global health and sustainability.
  • Putting nutritious and sustainable food on every plate requires a fundamental redesign of food production systems.
  • Climate change will affect all future scenarios and poses a significant threat.
  • Food system dynamics are likely to exacerbate inequality within and between nations.
  • Fourth industrial technologies and other innovations can revolutionise food systems but will introduce new challenges.

They also say that their analysis recognises opportunities for leaders to pursue food systems transformation:

  1. A new era of business could capture market opportunities for investing in health and nutrition, contribute to greater resilience in global markets, increase resource efficiency of business operations, and leverage technology to address social and environmental change in food systems.
  2. New and bold ‘smart policies’ are needed to redesign food systems, with opportunities to adapt ” whole of government” approach to integrate the true costs of food systems: link food, agriculture and environmental policies to healthy diets; and create an enabling environment for inclusive technologies.
  3. Social and ecological priorities should be at the centre of redesigned food systems, including efforts to address structural inequality and meet basic needs, influence new dietary norms and aspirations, and elevate the needs of future generations.

The Executive Summary then concludes by saying

Responsive and responsible leadership is needed from all sectors to secure inclusive, sustainable, efficient, nutritious and resilient food systems. Our choices — through action or inaction — will determine our path into an uncertain future.

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