Critical questions to ask and answer about the future of global agriculture in an era of multiple crises

Kathleen Merrigan seated at table talking with others.

By Kathleen Merrigan, Executive Director of the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University

October 6, 2023 at the ASU DC campus, the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems, TMG Think Tank for Sustainability, Berlin Germany and the German Embassy of Washington DC joined together to host an event designed to identify the most pressing questions policymakers must confront as they write the forthcoming US farm bill.

Astrid Jakobs de Padua, Minister Counselor, Head of Department for Food and Agriculture, Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany, Washington DC was instigator of the event and she reached out to Swette Center Senior Fellow and TMG Founder and Managing Director Alexander Mueller to brainstorm a plan. They soon reached out to me. As a trio, we set to work.

We started by reconsidering a 2010 publication, The top 100 questions of importance to the future of global agriculture. We wondered – is it time to revisit this exercise and elevate these questions in today’s context? Our answer was, YES indeed!

Peter Schlosser standing at podium giving a presentation. The US and Arizona flags are behind him.

Peter Schlosser, ASU Vice President and Vice Provost of Global Futures Laboratory kicked off our event. Besides being a leader at ASU, he is a member of the German National Academy of Sciences. Peter shared concerns about food systems in an era of rapid climate change, stressing the importance of the day’s dialogue for those in the room, many of them dignitaries from countries around the globe.

Astrid followed, providing comments on the importance of international dialogue and the need for German-US collaboration in agriculture, including the farm bill. Among other things, she shared reflections on recommendations from the Aspen Institute US-German Agriculture Forum on the Future of Agriculture. View a video from the Aspen Institute.

Then onto an outstanding panel. Alexander Mueller, whom I first met when he was my boss’s boss’s boss at the Food Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (he was Deputy Director General at the time), talked about the four C’s – you may have heard of them before: Climate, Conflict, Costs, and COVID. He argued that a big change since 2010 is that we are now talking about food systems and transformation, not just agriculture. Next, Ahmed Amdihun, Regional Programme Coordinator for Disaster Risk Management, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC) spoke. Now based in Nairobi, Ahmed is from Ethiopia. With poignant examples and heartbreaking data, Ahmed brought to life the very real and immediate concerns facing the Global South. Ricardo Salvador, Director and Senior Scientist, Union of Concerned Scientists and Senior Fellow with the Swette Center challenged the very structure of agriculture, citing systemic ills of the current system. I rounded up the panel, raising questions that were not high or even on the agenda back when the 2010 article was written – including the meaning of regenerative, issues of equity, farm-driven cuisine, and food as medicine among others.

Our panel with Alexander Mueller, Ahmed Amdihun, Ricardo Salvador, and Kathleen Merrigan outlined challenges to food system transformation.

A recording of our event can be found here.