Video: Food Chain Reaction crisis simulation kicks off in Washington

By Tom Vandyck

It’s 2020 In Washington DC today and the global food system is stressed. During Food Chain Reaction, international policymakers and thought leaders will game out the future of food security and climate change.

The Food Chain Reaction simulation is happening in Washington DC today and tomorrow (November 9-10). Co-hosts Cargill, WWF, Center for American Progress and Mars Inc. have gathered up dozens of experts from governments, companies, NGOs, think tanks and academic institutions worldwide to game out how we will ensure there’s enough safe, affordable and nutritious food for all in a changing world.

That is quite the challenge, said Cargill corporate vice president Joe Stone, who is representing the company as a player in the game. “We know we’ll be dealing with a global population of 9.5 billion by 2050. That means we’ll have to come up with 30 to 70 percent more food. To make things more complicated, climate change will affect the way we do agriculture. Droughts, floods and heat waves that normally occur once every 100 or 1,000 years are occurring more frequently. That will have consequences for agricultural output and prices.”

This morning, at the outset of the game, players were shown the video you can see for yourself on this page. The simulated newscast describes the world as it is projected in 2020, the starting point of the game. In the scenario, food prices are rising sharply, putting millions of people on the brink of hunger and poverty. Climate change’s impact are deepening, making monsoons in Asia less reliable and affecting traditional bread baskets such as the U.S., Canada and Brazil.

Following the opening round, the participants will be presented with a series of unexpected shocks and challenges. They will answer with moves and countermoves, counterpunch or cooperate, and leave with stronger insights.

“We do this so we can learn,” said Stone. “The things we’ll see here, we could easily see in the real world. It makes sense to game things out and practice, so we can be better prepared when we encounter scenarios like these down the road.”

The game was designed by the Washington-based Center for Naval Analyses, which also designs war games for the Pentagon. Food Chain Reaction was built with the same degree of realism the U.S. military requires.

“People tend to sensationalize these things,” said Cargill economist Tim Bodin, who assisted in the game design. “We didn’t want to do that. Rather, we used realistic assumptions, based on the impacts we expect climate change to have over the next 10 to 15 years and how we’ve seen markets actually react to disruption in the recent past, like the 2008-09 food crisis.”

Food Chain Reaction wraps up tomorrow evening. The outcome of the game is open. The fictional world of 2020 and beyond could be grim, but that is obviously not the outcome Cargill is looking for, said Stone.

“We’re living in an interdependent world, so what we hope won’t happen, is countries going for the short-term, individual advantage, putting up trade barriers and making side deals that cut other countries out. What we’re hoping for is cooperation and trade, so that food can flow from places where there’s a surplus to other places that have shortages. That’s ultimately the best way to build resiliency in a more and more volatile world.”