The WEF at Davos: They simply didn’t pay any attention to food supply risks

Perhaps it’s inevitable the rich and powerful gathered last week in Davos only paid attention to marginal food production issues rather than talk about food supply shortages.

They’ve set up the WEF First Movers Coalition for Food. This will, they say, deliver sustainably produced and low-emission agricultural commodities with an estimated value of $10-$20bn by 2030.

To put the figure of $10-$20bn into perspective, (2)  London’s population alone will have spent over $220bn on food between now and 2030; i.e the WEF has put forward a food production action which will have marginal impact on agri-food sector emissions. (3)

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Can we learn more about WEF thinking on food matters from their latest Global Risks Report? (4)

Those surveyed were asked to rank the severity of global risks today, those over the next two years, and those over the next ten years. (5)

  • The major current risk was extreme weather (66%) of those surveyed.
  • This was in second place over the next two years, with ‘misinformation and disinformation’ taking the top spot.
  • Within ten years, the following took the top four places:
    • Extreme weather events
    • Critical changes to Earth systems
    • Biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse
    • Natural resource shortages.

Remarkably, ‘food security’ came into the top five risks for executive in only three countries, Kenya, Malaysia and Rwanda. (6)

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Look again at the four risks ‘within ten years’. Each has the potential to wreak catastrophic damage to our food supplies. The possibility of a combination of any or all of them must be faced. (7)

The news release at the end of the Annual Meeting 2024 has the title Rebuilding Trist Amid Uncertainty, and makes the point that we are at a moment of growing fragmentation and polarisation.

Indeed, we are. But until and unless the rich and powerful take the food (and water) security of most of the world’s population seriously, fragmentation and polarisation will get worse. (8)

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What’s not been discussed in Davos this week reminds me of C Northcote Parkinson’s Law of Triviality, summarised in footnote (9)

Suggestions for the menu at the WEF Annual Meeting in 2030 anyone?

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See also this later blogpost: Facing the heat: The impact of high temperatures on agri-workers, livestock and crops.

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(1) They’ve set up the WEF First Movers Coalition for Food to to create up to $20bn value chain for sustainable farming which aims to create aggregated market demand for sustainably produced and low emission agricultural commodities.

(2) Big numbers on their own are misleading. On that matter, see this post: 1.1bn? The Peas Please Project in proportion.

(3) This was calculated using the DEFRA figure of  £41.11 spend per person per week in 2022, London’s population being 8.9m in 2022, and using today’s exchange rate of one GBP equalling $1.27.

(4) This report, published the week before the Annual Meeting, is the product of their Global Risks Perception Survey (GRPS) which is, as their Overview of methodology states on page 5, is the WEF’s premier source if global risks data, the result of surveying 1,490 experts across academia, business, governments, the international community and civil society collected between 4th Sept and 9th Oct 2023.

(5) I’d have liked to put in a screen shot of the infographics at the bottom of p7  and the top of page 8 of their Global Risks Report 2024, but their tad menacing ‘all rights reserved’ on p2 stopped me.

(6) Appendix C; Executive Opinion Survey: National Risk Perceptions Table C.2, pp 103-111.

(7) Which is why we’ve developed our scenarios exercise, The Game.

(8) This means more than supplying calories to the world’s population. A nutrient famine works more slowly than a calorie famine, but also has devastating impact. Unfortunately, most of the world’s attention is on calories; see for example, the UN FAO Triannual Global Report on Crop Prospects and Food Situation, the latest being #3, November 2023. Its only concern is calories. In contrast, see this 2021 post: A nutrient famine has already arrived.

(9) This Law is about people within an organisation who commonly give a disproportionate weight to trivial issues. Parkinson provides the example of a fictional committee whose job was to approve the plans for a nuclear power plant spending the majority of its time on discussions about relatively minor but easy-to-grasp issues, such as what materials to use for the staff bicycle shed, while neglecting the proposed design of the plant itself, which is far more important and a far more difficult and complex task.

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