Davos 2019: future-proofing global food systems

Monday, January 28, 2019 - 13:30

Following the launch earlier this month of Alternative Proteins, a research report conducted by the Oxford Martin School for the World Economic Forum (WEF), the organisations jointly organised an Ideas Lab on Future Proofing Food-Systems to be held as part of the WEF’s Annual Meeting in Davos last week. Here Professor Sir Charles Godfray, Professor Susan Jebb and Professor Sarah Whatmorthey discussed how we can sustainably feed a planet of 11 billion, how to tackle the global obesity epidemic, and how to use digital technology to address food poverty. Professor Godfray and Professor Jebb also participated in a Q&A at the event’s Science Hub on Wednesday about food systems and dietary interventions and Professor Jebb was also a facilitator in discussions about the EAT-Lancet Commission report on sustainable diets and our own report on Alternative Proteins.

One of the main themes of the meeting this year was sustainability - including climate change, conservation (with David Attenborough receiving a special award) and signs of a growing interest in the importance of food production and consumption to this agenda. There was also lots of discussion about mental health – prominently led by the Duke of Cambridge.

Professor Susan Jebb reflects on her experience of the World Economic Forum in Davos, where she presented "Pecha Kucha" style on future-proofing the food system. "It was the most terrifying presentation of my life with a super-strict Pecha Kucha format for the talk (no, I didn’t know what that was either till a few months ago). In essence, a five-minute talk presented in the manner of a stand-up comedian (without jokes), with 15 slides, each lasting exactly 20 seconds and run on an automatic timer – absolutely no room for error, no scope to trip over a word, or ad lib with a topical reference, or the slides would run away without you. Seriously anxiety inducing for all of us. But we pulled it off in some style I think and the subsequent group work created an amazing buzz of discussion. It was helped by having a packed room of people with an amazing range of knowledge and experience, including the Minister of Health from the UAE, Head of Global Agriculture for the World Bank, Vice-Chairman of PepsiCo and the Chief Executive of the Kofi Anan Foundation."

Things Professor Jebb took away from the event!

"People were there to network – at every opportunity people were talking to each other. I collected a lot of business cards. But I am an amateur at this and need to get better at striking up conversations and following up afterwards"

"There are better ways to engage people in a discussion than our often didactic, powerpoint-heavy academic conferences. There was a great variety of formats across the meeting which helped keep the energy levels high - films, interviews, debates and of course – Pecha Kucha!"

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