Agriculture, Food and Beverage

These are trends shaping the future of food 

The report outlines four scenarios for the future of agrifood systems: More of the same; Adjusted future; Race to the bottom; and Trading off for sustainability.

The report outlines four scenarios for the future of agrifood systems: More of the same; Adjusted future; Race to the bottom; and Trading off for sustainability. Image: REUTERS/Mike Blake (UNITED STATES ENERGY ENVIRONMENT)

Joe Myers
Writer, Forum Agenda
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Agriculture, Food and Beverage

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  • An FAO report warns of the risks and challenges facing global agrifood systems.
  • It calls for urgent action to address these issues.
  • The World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting in Davos will explore food security as one of a series of interconnected global problems.

Our ability to feed a growing global population is under threat, according to a new report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

The future of food and agriculture: Drivers and triggers for transformation, released in December 2022, warns that without broader changes on a socioeconomic and environmental level, we will not be able to build and maintain sustainable agrifood systems.

“Many of the SDGs (UN Sustainable Development Goals) are not on track and will only be achieved if agrifood systems are transformed properly to withstand ongoing global adversity that undermines food security and nutrition due to growing structural inequalities and also regional inequalities,” FAO Director-General QU Dongyu said at a launch event.

What are agrifood systems?

The FAO defines agrifood systems as: "the entire range of actors, and their interlinked value-adding activities, engaged in the primary production of food and non-food agricultural products, as well as in storage, aggregation, post-harvest handling, transportation, processing, distribution, marketing, disposal and consumption of all food products including those of non-agricultural origin."

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What are some of the forces shaping their future?

The FAO report identifies 18 so-called drivers, interconnected by nature and encompassing socio-economic and environmental forces. These interact with and help shape various elements of the global agrifood system, and include poverty and inequalities, geopolitical instability and degradation of resources.

On current paths, the report warns of a future defined by persistent food insecurity, destruction and degradation of resources, and unstainable economic growth.

Agrifood systems: key drivers, activities, outcomes and priority triggers for transformation
Agrifood systems: key drivers, activities, outcomes and priority triggers for transformation. Image: FAO

Four scenarios for the future of agrifood systems

The report also outlines four scenarios for the future of agrifood systems: More of the same; Adjusted future; Race to the bottom; and Trading off for sustainability.

As Director-General QU Dongyu explains, "strategic foresight helps us all, and governments in particular, by analyzing short-term and long-term trends and seeing possible alternative future scenarios. By considering worst-case scenarios, we can anticipate possible negative paths and take measures to avoid them.”

Future 'end-states' of alternative scenarios in the space of the outcomes. agrifood systems
The report identified four possible future scenarios. Image: FAO

Setting ourselves on a better path

Urgent change is required, the report warns. The FAO suggests four 'triggers of transformation' to drive this process of change: improved governance; critical and informed consumers; better income and wealth distribution; and innovative technology and approaches.

“To ensure access to sufficient and nutritious food, decent jobs, income opportunities, and environmental services, among others, requires us to be smarter in identifying the triggers needed to accelerate transformative processes,” Director-General QU Dongyu said.

A series of interconnected challenges

Food security is one of a series of interconnected challenges, from the cost of living to the energy crisis, that will be addressed at the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting in Davos from 16-20 January 2023.

You can learn more about the World Economic Forum's work on food systems and the innovation and changes that are needed here.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Agriculture, Food and BeverageFood Security
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