Report of the Future of Food seminar in Brussels, 28th of November 2008

At the close of the seminar, one of the participants said: “I'm going home with more food for thought than I had before the seminar, but it's far from a complaint.”, That was exactly the intention of the seminar. Not to generate answers, but to open up the future and raise questions. Not to forecast or to create scenarios, but to explore new horizons of the global food system.

The Future of Food seminar, that is reported here, took place in Brussels at 28th of November 2008. It focused on the growing gap between exploding consumer demands and the limited natural resources. What could technology offer to bridge this growing gap? The seminar was realized in cooperation with Wageningen University and Research Center and was chaired by Rudy Rabbinge, university professor in sustainable food production at Wageningen UR. Partners in realization were the Netherlands Ministry of Agriculture, the Netherlands Ministry of Health and the innovation network Food and Nutrition Delta. A number of 45 senior experts on global food systems from business, government, science and NGOs, participated in the seminar and contributed to the stakeholder dialogue sessions.

Download complete report Seminar report.pdf or the summary Seminar summary.pdf.




Gordon Conway
Frank van Tongeren
Roberto Smeraldi
Jochen Weiss
Kaisa Kautto-Koivula

Gordon Conway
Chief Scientific Adviser of DFID

The world is facing a range of crises. In his presentation, Sir Gordon Conway, Chief Scientific Adviser of DFID, showed how these crises are handled, and also how they are increasingly interconnected. “The problem is that we only half understand them and only half know how to manage them.”

In a way, these crises are like an English cottage loaf, with a small bit at the top and a larger part at the bottom. We tend to focus almost solely on the immediate crisis at the top, while neglecting to pay attention to the underlying crisis.

Frank van Tongeren
Senior Economist at the OECD

The OECD has constructed an outlook that offers valuable insights into the main dynamics of the food system expected in the coming years. Frank van Tongeren, Senior economist for the OECD, presented these outcomes and showed how, in the long run, supermarkets and Chinese pork consumption may come to dictate the food system.

Roberto Smeraldi
Director of Amigos da Terra - Brazilian Amazonia

As East Asia becomes the consumer centre of the world, Latin America is going to be the key area for biomass production - be it for food, feed, fibre or fuel. In his fifteen year outlook for dealing with limited natural resources in Brazil and other big food exporting countries, Roberto Smeraldi stated that Latin America could contribute to feed the growing global demand for a while, but that actual costs might be high if we include key externalities.

Jochen Weiss
Professor in food nanotechnology, University of Hohenheim

Technology helps to shape the future of the world food system, but not alone! New technologies have made it possible for agriculture to keep pace with the tremendous increase in world population - which has more than tripled over the course of the twentieth century - and technology is once again expected to provide solutions for the challenges that lie ahead. In this context, Jochen Weiss, professor in food nanotechnology at the University of Hohenheim in Frankfurt, provided his perspective on the impact of new technology applications - such as nanotechnology and biotechnology - on food supply over the course of the next fifteen years.

Kaisa Kautto-Koivula
Managing Director for Mind Gardenia Ltd.

“Developments in information and communication technology (ICT) have not only deeply influenced business, but have had a significant impact on our daily lives”, affirms Kaisa Kautto-Koivula, Managing Director for Mind Gardenia Ltd. and former futurologist with Nokia Corporation. Indeed, this technology has opened a very large window of opportunity for both economy and society, bringing with it new ways of working and thinking. For Kautto-Koivula, ICT development will bring profound change to the food industry, where “the pace of change is extremely rapid and expectations are high.”





Dialogue A

The discussion began with the relationship between the public and private sector, as within the food system it is important to determine who is responsible for what. There was agreement on the fact that the market has to be determined according to clear public borders. What is the public responsibility that limits private initiative?

Download complete dialogue A dialogue_A.pdf

Dialogue B

The participants in group B were looking to achieve a better understanding of the factors and processes involved in food production. Furthermore, they were seeking to outline priorities for the future, and to identify the stakeholders involved and what their responsibilities should entail.

Download complete dialogue B dialogue_B.pdf

Dialogue C

Participants in Group C – from business, science and government – all had direct links to the food system through their areas of work, which included obesity, sustainability, agriculture, health, climate change, food security, fair trade, market measures, ICT, organic production, technology, risk management and development aid.

Download complete dialogue C dialogue_C.pdf