PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Food Chain Reaction: A Global Food Security Game

On November 9-10 the World Wildlife Fund and the Center for American Progress conducted a crisis game examining global food security, Food Chain Reaction. The game design was undertaken by CNA, with funding and technical support from Cargill and Mars.

According to a report on the simulation by Bloomberg:

The year is 2026. Flooding, worsened by climate change, has devastated Bangladesh and driven millions of hungry refugees to its border with India. Worried about unrest and disease, India asks other nations for help.

The U.S. and China respond — China with aid deliveries, the U.S. by boosting aid to Pakistan, which has its own food crisis that’s adding to India’s tensions. That assistance helps India focus on Bangladesh. The crisis recedes.

While the scenario was fictional, two food-price shocks since 2008 have prompted riots and fueled revolutions around the world. Experts say such disruptions are likely to occur more frequently as a warming climate plays havoc with global food production. That fear brought together representatives of corporate food producers, aid groups and governments for two days this week in Washington where they role-played a simulated food crisis. Bloomberg News also participated, representing how media would react to a crisis.

“With climate change, how we deal with food-security threats requires some serious rethinking,” said Kathleen Merrigan, a former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture who participated in the exercise. “The ups and downs of prices and surpluses will only become more extreme.”

In the simulation — some called it the “hunger games” — at the U.S. headquarters of the World Wildlife Fund a fictional narrative was created to simulate real dangers that can emerge quickly as an increase in greenhouse gases contributes to volatile weather. In 2011, a real-life drought in Russia fueled food riots in North Africa that fed the Arab Spring uprisings, the aftermath of which reverberates in Syria today.

The fictional scenario began in 2020, with El Nino devastating crops in India and Australia, followed by a major drought in North America the following year.

Eight teams represented the U.S., European Union, Brazil, China, India, Africa, multilateral organizations such as the United Nations and World Bank, and global businesses.

Global food inventories declined through the first half of the simulated decade, with the Mississippi River flooding and drought in Asia. Food-importing nations in Africa saw demonstrations against rising food prices, while rising oil prices diverted more production to ethanol, further stressing supplies.

The crisis peaked in 2024, with record food prices generating unrest in Africa, South Asia and Ukraine. Both the U.S. and EU teams decided to repeal mandates requiring ethanol use, while Brazil ramped up production of all crops, including sugar used for biofuels. China invested in dams to protect scarce water.

‘Lifelike, Realistic’

The EU added a meat tax to discourage expensive livestock production and temporarily relaxed environmental regulations to boost its own production. The U.S. enacted a carbon tax, India taxed coal and support for a global climate deal was universal.

One point of the simulation was to create plausible scenarios to prepare participants to respond to real-life threats, said Kate Fisher, a game director with CNA Corp., a research organization that creates crisis simulations for the Defense Department and other federal agencies.

“It’s planning by doing,” forcing participants to make decisions and react to one another, she said. “We try to make it realistic. The players make it lifelike.”

These hunger games proved to be never-ending.

By 2027, the EU repealed its emergency measures on meat and regulations, as a series of large harvests built up supplies, though trouble persisted in Chad, Sudan and other parts of Africa that hadn’t invested in agriculture. Countries began working more closely with the United Nations to handle refugees from climate catastrophes.

New Normal

But prices, and temperatures, rose again at the end of the decade, showing how abnormal is expected to be the new normal in food and agriculture.

You’ll also find a report on the Cargill corporate website:

Over two days, the players – divided into teams for Africa, Brazil, China, the EU, India, the U.S., international business and investors, and multilateral institutions – crafted their policy responses as delegations engaged in intensive negotiations.

Cooperation mostly won the day over the short term individual advantage. Teams pledged to build international information networks and early warning systems on hunger and crops together, invest jointly in smart agricultural technology and build up global food stocks as a buffer against climate shocks.

In the face of a steep price spike with looming global food shortages in 2022, the EU at one point suspended its environmental rules for agriculture and introduced a tax on meat. Both measures were quickly reversed in 2025, as harvests went back to normal and tensions eased in the hypothetical universe.

The most eye-catching result, however, was a deal between the U.S., the EU, India and China, standing in for the top 20 greenhouse gas emitters, to institute a global carbon tax and cap CO2 emissions in 2030.

“We’ve learned that a carbon tax is a possibility in years ahead,” acknowledged Stone. “But before we can consider moving ahead with a measure like that, we must study it and understand it much better. We have to avoid sudden market distortions and unforeseen consequences.”

Stone said he was impressed with the complexity of the game and the second and third order consequences of some of the decisions that were taken. “Take the meat tax Europe wanted to impose, and think through that. What meat are you going to tax – does that mean poultry and beef or aquaculture as well? Where do you levy the tax, where does the money go, what are the unintended consequences?”

‘Not just putting out fires’

The game was built over the course of months, with maximal realism in mind. The scenario was extrapolated from events that have actually occurred in the real world, such as the food crisis of 2008-2009 or the recent string of hottest years and months on record.

Cargill economist Tim Bodin, who helped design the game and sat on the judges’ panel that evaluated the team’s moves, said he was surprised by the degree of cooperation. “Most people started out with a short-term perspective, but transitioned to long-term measure pretty quickly – they started working to strengthen resiliency instead of just putting out fires.”

The realism of the exercise exceeded expectations, said former U.S. Senate majority leader Tom Daschle, who acted as a mentor to the players. “It’s much closer to the real world than you’d think. The people who play here are very committed and serious.”

Additional summaries can be found at the Food Chain Reaction and WWF websites.

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