Oxford hosts inaugural Foresight4Food workshop

Key players meet in Oxford to explore the use of foresight and scenario analysis in the global food system.

 The global food system is under pressure. Demand for food is growing at the same time as natural resources are being depleted. Climate change risks lower crop yields and unpredictable droughts, natural disasters and disease outbreaks that can disrupt food supply. Some two billion people still suffer poor health from low nutrient intake while changing consumption and exercise patterns are leading to obesity problems with dire implications for health and national budgets.

On March 22-23 leading international players gathered in Oxford to explore how foresight and scenario analysis for the global food system could be improved. The meeting resulted in an agreement on the need for more coordination and collaboration across on going work and better stakeholder engagement activities across all players. A small team will take a number of action items forward to develop the Foresight4Food initiative further.

Foresight is a key tool that governments, business and civil society can use to better understand future risks and the opportunities and to adapt – before crises hit.

Yet, as the workshop concluded, current foresight efforts are fragmented and the science of foresight needs to be better connected with societal debate and policy dialogue to drive change.

Dr John Ingram, the Food Systems Programme Leader at the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, said that “this was a very valuable and timely meeting, expressing a clear need for better coordination and integration on both foresight development and outreach”.

Central to the discussion was a food systems perspective. This means looking at food issues across the entire supply chain from production to consumption as well as the connections between environmental, health and economic outcomes. It also looks at food issues in both the developed and developing world. Food is a “nexus” issue that connects across critical global challenges of reducing poverty, improving health, tackling and responding to climate change, protecting biodiversity and managing water scarcity.

Consequently improved foresight for the global food system will be critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular Goal Two (end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture).

The event was hosted by the Environmental Change Institute and the Oxford Martin School and organized in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the International Food Policy Research Institute. Funding to support the event is provided by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), Oxford University through the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, and the Cooperative Group on International Agricultural Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM).

Organisations at the meeting agreed to ongoing collaboration to help develop a collaborative “foresight4food” initiative. This will provide mechanisms for greater scientific collaboration as well as for improved communication and engagement process that can support global, regional and national policy dialogue.

“This was a very valuable and timely meeting, expressing a clear need for better coordination and integration on both foresight development and outreach”.

Dr John Ingram, Leader of Food Research, ECI.

A version of this post originally appeared on the Environmental Change Institute website.

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