Better foresight for better decisions
CGIAR Initiative on Foresight
- Impact Area
The CGIAR Foresight Initiative held its first Partnership Forum
By Keith Wiebe, Elisabetta Gotor, and Evgeniya Anisimova
Two generations ago, the challenge facing agriculture was daunting but clear: the world needed to rapidly increase staple food production to meet rising demand. That goal was met – staple food production grew 50 percent faster than population over the past half century. But today’s challenges facing food, land, and water systems are more numerous and complex. Currently 648 million people, about 8 percent of the global population, still live in absolute poverty (World Bank, 2022). At least 2 billion people are chronically hungry, micronutrient-deficient, or overweight, and over 3 billion people cannot afford a healthy diet (FAO, 2022). Natural resources are under increasing stress, gender gaps and other forms of inequality persist, and climate change, conflict, and COVID-19 are exacerbating these challenges.
Addressing these issues is an urgent priority, but trade-offs are unavoidable, and the choices national governments and their development partners must make are complicated. Decision-makers need better evidence to help them choose actions that minimize trade-offs and advance progress toward collective goals. The CGIAR Foresight Initiative, part of CGIAR’s new research portfolio, is working to inform these choices and enhance decision-making about the future by combining advanced analytics and close engagement with national, regional, and global partners.
In this spirit, the Foresight Initiative held its first Partnership Forum on January 24–27, 2023, in Nairobi, Kenya. The forum brought together key partners from across sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) including colleagues from 16 member countries of the African Network of Agricultural Policy Research Institutes (ANAPRI). The forum explored challenges facing food, land, and water systems at national, regional, and global scales; identified opportunities to share and strengthen capacity for foresight in the SSA region; and examined ways to use foresight tools and analysis to inform policymaking. The program included the main forum (January 24–25) and a training course on data and models for economywide analysis at the country level (January 26–27).
Over the four days of the forum and training, through presentations, discussions, coffee breaks and mealtimes, nearly 100 participants shared insights, challenges, concerns, and questions from a wide variety of personal, professional, and geographic perspectives. These reflected a rich diversity of contexts and experiences spanning multiple countries, continents, and time zones. Still, clear common messages emerged:
- Foresight is essential for food systems transformation. We can and must learn from the past, but food systems are also changing in dramatic ways, so we need to confront uncertainty about the future by exploring alternative pathways and options to inform decision-making today.
- Foresight requires both engagement and analysis. Engagement with stakeholders helps ensure that foresight reflects the concerns of those who face difficult decisions, while rigorous analysis is essential to understand complex interactions, trade-offs, and synergies among different food system drivers and outcomes.
- Foresight is needed at multiple scales, ranging from subnational to global, and across multiple goals, including social, nutritional, economic, and environmental goals.
- Foresight needs to balance simplicity and complexity. To be effective, foresight needs to address complex challenges, but it must also be clear and communicable to decision-makers. To accomplish this, foresight needs to be an iterative process, not a one-off exercise.
- Foresight is already being conducted by many institutions with close connections to decision-makers in many countries, demonstrating rising demand for foresight inputs.
- Foresight capacity gaps remain, and practitioners from diverse backgrounds can benefit from shared learning to better combine local knowledge, experience, and connections with state-of-the-art analytical tools.
[See the Forum report for more details]
In the coming months and over the next two years, the CGIAR Foresight Initiative will continue to work with partners to build on the insights shared at the forum to enhance foresight methods, tools, and applications, with a particular focus on Africa and Asia. Specific action points for 2023 include strengthening partnerships, facilitating a Foresight Community of Practice, delivering in-person and online training, investing in enhanced foresight data and tools, producing synthesis briefs and new analyses, and continuing to engage with decision-makers on policy and investment options to shape the future of food systems.
To follow our progress, subscribe to the Foresight Initiative quarterly newsletter and feel free to get in touch with the team via firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to learn more.