Philippe Vandenbroeck

Fields for Food or Fuel? Scenarios for a new biomass regime


In 2008, the agri-food and the emerging bio-energy industries were faced with newly emerging and highly unpredictable dynamics of the biomass regime. New supply and demand equilibria of the system held important implications for hundreds of millions of people who spend a large part of their disposable income on food, or who earn their livelihood from food production. The viability of many other business sectors such as traditional energy, chemical, paper and transport companies would equally be affected. Finally, if the transition to a new biomass regime was not well managed there was the possibility of serious environmental damage. It was therefore important for relevant stakeholders to come to grips with the complexity and uncertainty of possible future developments in order to re-consider strategic and policy approaches.


The project was conceived as a collaborative scenario development project. It provided an opportunity for a range of stakeholders to collaboratively make sense of long term developments in this very sensitive and exceedingly complex issue. The project framed its central question as: – how could the balance between global demand and supply of agricultural raw materials for food, feed and energy evolve in the next 20 years?

A mixed group of 22 experts from industry, civil society and academia engaged in this collaborative and visionary project. The UN Foundation and an industry consortium consisting of Jungbunzlauer, Nutreco and Cosun supported this effort financially. ShiftN designed the process and executed the project in collaboration with Giract, which brought an independent industrial market perspective to the table. Dr. André Faaij from Copernicus Institute (Utrecht University) acted as a scientific advisor to the project team. 

The result of the process was a set of four challenging, but plausible future scenarios that played out over the next 15 years: Biomass Bullies, Fragile Utopia, Mandated Mania, and Biomass Breakdown.


The project was concluded with the publication of a summary brochure with a description of the scenario’s and illustrated with the dashboard comparison. The brochure was widely distributed by the UN Foundation. The supporting companies were advised by shiftN in a half-day strategy workshop to explore possible consequences of each scenario for the company. The UN Foundation used the summary brochure to trigger more awareness amongst stakeholders about the possible impacts of new biomass regimes on vulnerable people and societies.

Photo by Valdemars Magone on Unsplash