Discover the future(s)! Four scenarios for a future-proof crops


Climate change, new biotechnologies and changing consumer habits and farming practices are just a few examples which illustrate the dramatic changes that agriculture in the EU may undergo until the year 2050. But how exactly will the challenges, trends and uncertainties develop? The answer to this question is of crucial importance if CropBooster-P wants to meet its goal of developing a future-proof roadmap for a sustainable food supply in Europe.

As no one can predict what will happen, the CropBooster-P team did the next best thing: creating a set of diverse learning scenarios that allows us to discuss what might happen and what this would mean for the development of our roadmap. Over the course of the CropBooster-P Scenario Analysis, the project team explored 45 trends and a number of uncertainties that are related to the future of agriculture in Europe. The process resulted in four learning scenarios:


“Plantovation”: A success story of innovation in agriculture

From today to 2050 — how the scenario may become reality:

  • A technology revolution is already under way today:
    • Artificial intelligence beats the best Go players and creates artworks people can‘t distinguish from human-made ones
    • New gene editing technologies make things possible that seemed like science fiction just a while ago
  • At the same time, we need to fix our CO2 problem — and biomass provides a feasible, relatively cheap solution
  • In the coming years, more and more entrepreneurs will be applying revolutionary technologies of the next generation to grow crops for food and non-food applications
  • The reservations against certain plant technologies visible today quickly fade as startups celebrate breakthroughs and spectacular results — pleasing both consumers and investors
  • The increasing flow of venture capital into this domain eventually leads to big, multinational “agritech” companies
  • As a result, the next generation of multi-billionaires will not be in software — they will be in “agritech”


Your Food. Your Health. Your Choice: How consumers became king

From today to 2050 — how the scenario may become reality:

  • Already today, one can buy a Coke with one’s name printed on it or mass customize muesli to satisfy individual preferences
  • Data as a resource and the ongoing digitalization will continue to enable new business models and societal opportunities
  • By gathering and analyzing data, health will move from curing to preventing disease. Personalized medicine will take off in the coming years increasing focus and efficacy — which is urgently needed to contain civilization diseases like diabetes that are otherwise spreading quickly
  • At the same time, the actual impact of diet on our health will become more and more transparent, leading to a convergence of medicine and nutrition
  • Visionary entrepreneurs will be quick to seize the emerging opportunities and give consumers what they want: their food, their health, their choice
  • As a result, a new class of billionaires and successful food companies emerge that generate vast profits — not from crop production, but from a relentless focus on consumer needs and highly sophisticated supply chains that make it possible to satisfy these diverse needs efficiently


Foodmergency: A cautionary tale about food security

From today to 2050 — how the scenario may become reality:

  • The warnings from scientists against climate change and its potential impact on agriculture are loud and clear
  • Unfortunately, the pessimistic views turn out to be correct: the EU — like many other countries around the world — faces a series of severe environmental crises. As a result, the EU experiences dramatic food security challenges
  • Globally, the situation is even grimmer in some cases. The global economy suffers and international food trade collapses due to global shortages
  • As food security can no longer be taken for granted, the EU and national governments take radical steps to increase the production of food crops: this includes regulation that favors yield-oriented biotech and drastic market interventions to increase European production capacities for food
  • Over the course of just a few years before 2050, a government-directed, large-scale agricultural system is created
  • Society backs these policies because they seem to be without alternative. However, the widespread use of advanced biotech, instances of public mismanagement and personal restrictions are seen critically


REJECTech:When science lost the people

From today to 2050 — how the scenario may become reality:

  • Skepticism, fake news, and heated discussions in the (social) media have become a global phenomenon. This development also affects agricultural topics as the use of glyphosate illustrates. Europe becomes particularly precautionary
  • As the possibilities from technologies like gene editing, A.I. and robotics increase, so does the probability of failed experiments
  • A steady stream of food scandals and examples of scientific misconduct also do its share to further erode European society’s trust in science, industry as well as in the institutions that are supposed to supervise them
  • Over the years, sustainability becomes synonymous with the absence of advanced biotech. Eventually, the EU enacts strict regulation to please skeptical voters and large agri companies lose their license to operate
  • The rejection of technology has its price, however: growing challenges from climate change and low productivity in agriculture result in supply problems and increasing prices. As agriculture develops significantly slower in the EU than abroad, trade imbalances arise and force EU agriculture to find alternative value adding activities


On 14th April 2019, these scenarios were introduced to a large group of external stakeholders from science, politics and the food industry. The intensive one-day workshop took place in Brussels and was facilitated by the innovation consultancy SOMMERRUST and organized by the European Technology Platform (ETP) ‘Plants for the Future’. In order to foster in-depth discussion about the scenarios, the group was asked to imagine specific aspects of the four future worlds — like the typical dinner of a French middle-class family or the required training of a farmer in 2050. Based on the gained intuitive understanding of the scenarios, the CropBooster-P team and the stakeholders jointly worked out the potential practical implications and challenges regarding the key topics of yield, sustainability and nutritional quality.


Not predictions but learning scenarios

Learning scenarios serve as a general framework for contemplating future worlds. By design, they are plausible but unlikely. Hence, reality in the year 2050 will probably include aspects from each of the four learning scenarios above as well as some unforeseen outcomes. Therefore, they cannot be considered as predictions. Nevertheless, the current set of scenarios covers a wide range of possibilities and therefore fulfills its purpose: to provide new perspectives, to make project results more robust, and to facilitate a more proactive stance towards future threats and opportunities.


For the full project report click here.