Food systems thinking and the World Economic Forum in Davos

posted in: News, Uncategorized, Year 4 | 0

The recent World Economic Forum meeting put food systems thinking on the agenda, as IFSTAL Education co-ordinator Michael Heasman explains.

Whatever your perceptions of the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting, which was held in Davos, Switzerland, from 22-25 January, much of its work and outputs are influenced by systems thinking. In fact, among the 14 ongoing system initiatives it has put in place, one is entitled Shaping the Future of Food.

The theme for this year’s annual meeting – attended by more than 3,000 people – was Globalisation 4.0.

The WEF describes Globalisation 4.0 as the process characterised by a profound global instability brought on by the technological disruption of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (think robotics) and the re-alignment of geo-economics and geo-political forces (think Brexit and President Trump!)

As part of this theme in the area of food the WEF launched a new report on 23 January entitled Innovation with a Purpose: Improving Traceability in Food Value Chains through Technology.

This report sets out how the Fourth Industrial Revolution can be used to address food system challenges, such as applying blockchain, the internet of things, and food-sensing technologies to improve information about the provenance, safety, efficiency, and sustainability of food and food supplies.

The report forms part of a programme of WEF work on food systems spanning more than 10 years since it and its partners launched its New Vision for Agriculture in 2009.

From the WEF’s systems perspective, the focus is on the food system changes needed to feed an estimated 8.5 billion global population nutritiously and sustainably by 2030. An interesting example of the WEF approach here is its 2017 report on Shaping the Future of Global Food Systems: A Scenario Analysis.

As well as its systems perspective, the WEF puts great store on multi-stakeholder partnerships (this concept will be explored further in Workshop 3 coming up 16 February so sign up to attend!). In the area of food, the WEF says it has supported more than 100 value-chain partnerships in 21 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

A core conclusion and driver for the totality of WEF’s food initiative is that a fundamental shift is needed to enable food systems to promote sustainable and healthy eating.

The WEF website is well worth exploring to examine the organisation’s range of work and the types of solutions it proposes or suggests to tackle food systems challenges.

There are also interesting articles by external organisations in which you pick up unexpected insights and facts: one gem for me from this year was this report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation relating to the circular economy and food systems.

For example, I didn’t know it has been calculated that for every dollar spent on food, society pays two dollars in health, environmental, and economic costs (equal to US$5.7 trillion per year globally). Another fact from the same article: 80% of all food is expected to be consumed in cities by 2050 – how might this impact our understanding of the connections between production and consumption?

To find out more, start exploring at:


Image @ World Economic Forum / Benedikt von Loebell