Agrifood Economics

Regional foresight exercises first phase implementation in all five FAO regions


Responding to calls by the 28th Committee on Agriculture and Member requests to reinforce FAO’s strategic foresight capacity, FAO is systematically conducting foresight exercises at corporate, regional, subregional and country levels for the transformation of agrifood systems. This article describes how FAO is implementing Regional Foresight Exercises (RFEs) with and in all FAO Regions, to regionalize strategic foresight.

RFEs draw from the Corporate Strategic Foresight Exercise (CSFE) 2020-22, culminating in the recent FAO flagship report The future of food and agriculture – Drivers and triggers for transformation. The report’s principles guide several FAO foresight activities, such as the recent foresight report on emerging technologies and innovations in agrifood systems. FAO’s strategic foresight exercises, like the CSFE 2020-2022, inform corporate strategic documents such as the FAO Strategic Framework 2022-2031. These exercises reflect FAO’s commitment to forward-thinking and strategic action.

Features of strategic foresight and Regional Foresight Exercises (RFE) 

  1. Multidisciplinary and ambitious; collects FAO internal and external intelligence. 
  2. Analyzes agrifood systems and beyond. This is vital because socioeconomic and environmental systems impact agrifood systems in a substantial manner. 
  3. Looks at the medium-, long- and very long-term (2030, 2050, 2100).  
  4. Looks at different futures (scenarios), not just one possible future. 
  5. Avoids advocacy and wishful thinking.  
  6. Provides a vehicle to say how systems might evolve, regardless of preferences. 
    a. Thinking about ‘worst case’ scenarios (relative to values and objectives expressed by Agenda 2030) allows action to avoid them, move towards more desirable scenarios and create contingency plans.  
    b.Thinking about acceptable or desirable scenarios (relative to values and objectives expressed by Agenda 2030), allows thinking about policy paths required to materialize futures that would otherwise be unreachable. 
  7. Because the approach strives for objectivity, it provides a chance to decipher and dissect difficult real political economy constraints that stakeholders face in present-day reality and its short-term incentives, that otherwise would be difficult to even debate about. 

Following the launched and dissemination of the report, FAO is now implementing Regional Foresight Exercises (RFEs) within all FAO Regions, with the support of the Policy Intelligence Branch – Global Perspectives (PIB-GP), the Office of Strategy, Programme and Budget (OSP), the Office of Innovation (OIN), the FAO Foresight Network (FFN), and the office of the SDGs (OSG).  

The RFEs aim to contribute to regional and country-level programming; provide a forward-looking framework for policy making in the Region; and enhance foresight capacities at regional, subregional, and country levels. Strengthening FAO’s foresight expertise at the decentralized level is expected to benefit ongoing and future decentralized planning processes such as the development of CCAs/UNSDCFs and CPFs. Furthermore, foresight insights at the decentralized level would provide inputs to Regional Conferences and corporate strategic planning documents.

Following RFE Inception meetings in all five regions, the team conducted several RFE Expert Consultations in three regions - similar Expert consultations will be done for REU and RAF in early 2024 -, at the regional, subregional, and national level, during end-November and beginning of December. A wide team of data analyst and quantitative economists, hired for the RFEs, using a data Dashboard linked with the “future of food and agriculture –Drivers and triggers for transformation” report and other data sources, worked to present historical trends of priority drivers to regional experts. All this interest manifested by these expert consultations at the regional and national levels further supports the overarching role of corporate work on future(s) of food and agriculture as a unifying analytical framework for transformation of agrifood systems and a conceptual platform for actions at all levels, being reinforced with the regional, subregional, and country-level foresight exercises.

The sequence of RFE expert consultations at the end of 2023:

  • Southeast Asia (RAP-RFE), Bangkok, 24 November
  • Viet Nam (RAP-CFE pilot), Hanoi, 29 November
  • Caribbean (RLC-RFE), Barbados, 29 November
  • Nepal (RAP-CFE pilot), Kathmandu, 30 November
  • Pacific Islands (RAP-RFE), Samoa, 4 December
  • High Income Countries of Asia and the Pacific (RAP-RFE), Bangkok, 6 December
  • Latin America and the Caribbean (RLC-RFE), Santiago, 6-7 December
  • Near East and North Africa (RNE-RFE), Cairo, 7 December
  • South Asia (RAP-RFE), Bangkok, 8 December

Asia and the Pacific

A hybrid RFE Inception Workshop in RAP was held on 4 October 2023, with approximately 70 participants. To have a more efficient knowledge-sharing discussion and obtain more detailed insights, five different subregional groupings were created: Southeast Asia, South Asia, Pacific Islands, major players: China and India, and high-income countries. The workshop identified priority drivers for the Region and subregions and explored “weak signals” of possible futures. During the workshop, the need to carry out strategic foresight exercises at national level emerged. This would help grounding decision making processes on strategic views, increase strategic foresight capacities through learning by doing and enhance the overall buy-in of foresight approaches by governments and stakeholders. This looks particularly relevant, when regional and subregional foresight exercises cover a range of countries with substantial diversity. Therefore country-level foresight, as called for by COAG is being pursued. For this reason, within the context of RFE-RAP and based on country requests, Viet Nam and Nepal have been chosen as pilot countries. Following this, in accordance with the RFE methodological steps, FAO organized several RFE Expert Consultations in the region and subregions:

  • The first consultation was for Southeast Asia (Bangkok, Thailand), on 24 of November 2023, with Lan Huong Nguyen, presenting the RFE findings up to that moment, and obtaining the consensus on sub-regional strategic triggers among 6 countries. Rathana Peou Norbert Munns (OSG) facilitated the meeting dynamics.
  • The second meeting was the Inception workshop for the Viet Nam Country Foresight Exercise (CFE) in Hanoi (Viet Nam), on 29 November 2023, with Lorenzo Bellù leading the work and presentations.
  • The third meeting was the Inception workshop for the Nepal’s CFE in Katmandu (Nepal), on 30 November 2023, with Lan Huong Nguyen leading the work and presentations on CFE methodologies, prioritized drivers, weak signals, alternative future scenarios, with participation of over 40 external experts and high-level officials.
  • The fourth consultation was for the Pacific Islands in Apia (Samoa) on 4 December 2023, with Lorenzo Bellù and Tomoyuki Uno leading the work and presentations. Given the specificities of the Pacific Islands and the importance that the whole Organization attaches to small islands, SAP brought experts to Samoa and online, with the aim of sharing with colleagues and partners FAO’s foresight findings, discussing RFE findings to date, and digging down on the possible futures of agrifood, socioeconomic and environmental systems in SAP.
  • The fifth hybrid consultation was for High Income Countries in the Asia and the Pacific Region, in Bangkok, on 6 December 2023, with Lorenzo Bellù and Tomoyuki Uno leading the work and presentations. The online session had representatives of high-income countries in the RAP region and was co-coordinated with the FAO Liaison Office in Tokyo.
  • The sixth consultation was for South Asia, on 8 December 2023, with Tomoyuki Uno, Lorenzo Bellù, presenting RFE results up to that moment and Rathana Peou Norbert Munns facilitating the meeting dynamics.
  • Surveys on nationalized strategic options of triggers for transformation are being conducted by national experts in Viet Nam and Nepal during 6-14 December, led by Lan Huong Nguyen.

 Latin America and the Caribbean      

The first phase of the RFE for the region began in September 2023 with a regional hybrid Inception workshop done in Santiago de Chile, and two subregional workshops in Panama and Barbados, at a request of the SLM and SLC subregional offices, to better capture the subregional specificities. Following this, expert consultations at regional and subregional level occurred during a travel mission by Isabel Parras, Policy and Data Analyst of PIB-GP:

  • The first hybrid expert consultation was organized in SLC office in Barbados on 29 November 2023, with Isabel Parras presenting the context, methodology, weak signals, and work done so far and Lystra Fletcher-Paul, Sub-regional Foresight Exercise Facilitator, and ex-Subregional coordinator for SLC, facilitating the discussion on scenarios, triggers for transformation, and challenges for the Caribbean.
  • Isabel Parras participated in the UNEP Regional Foresight Workshop – Latin American and the Caribbean Region in Bogota, Colombia, which occurred on 4-5 December 2023, where she gathered information on similar exercises being done by other institutions and provided inputs on the scenarios proposed so that the consideration of agrifood systems was mainstreamed.
  • The second hybrid expert consultation was coordinated and presented in SLC office in Chile for RFE-LAC on 6-7 December. In this session, Isabel Parras presented the “future of food and agriculture” methodology and Alynn Sanchez, Regional Foresight Exercise Consultant, facilitated the collaborative exercise on scenarios, triggers and strategic options for the Region and with specific focus on the Mesoamerica and Caribbean subregions. These expert meetings served to validate findings to date, gather final inputs and to define the next steps to continue with the second and third phase of the RFE methodology during the biennium 2024-25.

Near East and North Africa

The FAO Office for the Near East and North Africa region (FAORNE), with the support of the ESA Policy Intelligence Branch-Global Perspectives (PIB-GB) team, along with the Office of Strategy, Programme and Budget (OSP), the Office of Innovation (OIN), and the broader FAO Foresight Network (FFN), began the first phase of the RFE for the NENA region in September of 2023 with a hybrid Inception workshop done in Cairo. Following this, in accordance with the RFE methodological steps, FAO organized a RFE Expert Consultation on 7 December 2023 with the goal of presenting and seeking validation of the work done at that moment in time and to get further feedback and insights, to enrich the RNE-RFE Report progress with the first phase workplan.

Participation comprised of FAO technical colleagues (from subregions and national level, as well), FAORs, subregional representatives, and external experts from private sector, academia, etc, of the Region. During the consultation Pedro Morais de Sousa, Political Economist (PIB-GP) along with the RNE data team, presented preliminary work done on historical trends and projections of key variables for priority Drivers in the Region and related weak signals, regionalized scenarios, regional challenges, and triggers for transformation. Discussion to gather feedback, validate current findings, and obtain insights on strategic policy options and regional investment priorities was key to enrich the final version of the RNE-RFE first phase Report. It will also support the deliberations during the 37th session of the Near East Regional Conference (4-5 March 2024), and the work planning for FAORNE for 2024-25.