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Europe Is Wargaming a Food Crisis

(Bloomberg) — The combined forces of El Niño and La Niña have crippled Latin American soy output. Ukrainian and Russian grain farmers have gone to war. Indonesia has banned shipments of palm oil to Europe, while China is hungry for crops. The Mediterranean region is getting more like a desert.

The year is 2024. “Food shortage in Europe? The only question is when, but they don’t listen,” says an unidentified voice in a video broadcast. The audience sits quietly — listening.

The dramatic collision of events, of course, hasn’t yet come to pass. But over two days in central Brussels last month, some 60 European Union and government officials, food security experts, industry representatives and a few journalists gathered to confront the possibility of something barely on the radar a few years ago: a full-blown food crisis.

The group sat down in a refurbished art deco Shell building to simulate what might happen, and help design policies aimed at prevention and response. A few streets away, farmers were stepping up their protests against the EU, disrupting supplies to supermarkets as if to sharpen the focus of the participants.

The plush co-working space was hardly a bunker or secure basement in a warzone. But the video images of drought, floods and civil unrest to the pounding beat of ominous music created a sense of urgency.

“Expect a level of chaos,” warned Piotr Magnuszewski, a systems modeler and game designer who has worked with the United Nations. “You may be confused at times and not have enough information. There will be time travel.”

To watch one of the best-fed regions in the world stress test its food system underscores a growing level of alarm among governments over securing supplies for their populations. In the space of four years, multiple shocks have shaken up the way food is grown, distributed and consumed.

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