Food System Futures: Dealing with Uncertainty and Complexity

Thinking about the future of food systems is fraught with uncertainty. Food systems are large, complex and dynamic; they are strongly interdependent on other dynamic systems. Yet, it is essential that, given rising populations, changing diets, climate change and the food-energy-water nexus, we think about how food systems can sustainably meet future needs, become more resilient, and work towards this aspiration.

So how do we deal with this uncertainty? In this final lecture of the IFSTAL series, we hear from three academics who have been grappling with this question in different ways. Professor Charles Godfray chaired the Lead Expert Group of the Foresight Project on the Future of Food which published its landmark report in 2011. Food system challenges were explored and the implications for policy making examined, concluding that ‘nothing less is required that a redesign of the whole food system to bring sustainability to the fore’. Dr Monika Zurek has extensive experience of using scenarios as a way to systematically think through uncertainty in future food systems – she is currently doing so in relation to food and nutrition security for Europe. Previously she has been lead author on large assessment reports – IPCC , IAASTD and Millennium Ecosystem Assessments – dealing with uncertainty and futures. Dr Joost Vervoort also has extensive experience of using scenarios at the food science-policy interface. Keen to push the potential for scenario exploration further, he is now looking at how gaming, role playing and simulation can help more creatively explore possible food futures and how we get there.