They came. They played. They offered an insight into our food future. This week, a group of 65 private and public sector leaders from around the world came together in Washington to participate in a two-day simulation and role-playing exercise to help understand how governments, institutions and companies might interact during a future crisis in the global food system.
(Credit: Darren S. Higgins)
Because food systems are more inter-connected and inter-dependent today than ever before, a food crisis can ripple outward with lightning speed and cascading impacts. Experts came together to see and test responses to various scenarios and better understand the complex interplay and unintended consequences of unilateral decisions that shape our global food system.
Teams of players represented the United States, India, China, Brazil, Europe and Africa. In addition, there were also teams of private sector and multinational actors. To make the game realistic, participants were not only from different geographies, but experts in different policy areas such as agriculture, climate, trade and diplomacy.
The initial scenario they faced is a world five years from now, where demographic changes, climate pressures and political crises combine to threaten food security. Global food stocks are lower than average, causing prices to skyrocket worldwide and leading to widespread social unrest. A series of weather-related disasters further disrupt global production. The world mobilizes to address a series of food security challenges.
After two hours of deliberations, which included negotiations between the teams, several proposed solutions were presented, among them relaxing biofuel mandates, new commitments to invest in agriculture and pledges to avoid export bans and taxes.
Throughout the game, the teams were presented with new scenarios that required them to negotiate, make decisions, confront trade-offs and announce actions that resulted in a chain reaction of consequences. This, in turn, presented them with choices requiring new deliberations, negotiations and decisions.
As the game unfolded in Round 2, which took place during 2022 to 2024, teams were confronted with a new “normal” – additional climate stresses and shocks in North America, Europe and Asia, and rising oil prices that led to skyrocketing food prices, estimated at nearly 400% above long term averages. Water shortages reduced global production. As a consequence, social unrest spread further, resulting in humanitarian and refugee crises in several countries across Africa, Europe and Asia.
Teams responded with a new sets of solutions and policy initiatives. Several teams made new diplomatic commitments, multilateral organizations and businesses stepped up their engagement and support, and national and continental teams worked together to provide emergency aid to populations where climate and market conditions created food shortages, refugee flows and other humanitarian demands.
How would the teams react, decide, negotiate and collaborate as the global food crisis worsened in the middle of the next decade? Stay tuned for more…