A Foresight Project for Natural Fiber
by | Dilip Tambyrajah Secretary, The International Natural Fiber Organization Zoetermeer, The Netherlands
Growing Together – Future Forum 2020 is a Foresight project of the International Natural Fiber organization (INFO). INFO is a Public-Private-Partnership of fiber producers from emerging economies and developing countries such as Brazil, Bangladesh, India, Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Tanzania.
The key reasons for the decline of these fibers could be attributed to lack of proactiveness and neglect of innovation. The producing countries often considered each other as competitors and were not able to find areas where consensus could be developed and collective action made possible.
INFO was officially incorporated as an international association in the latter part of 2009. Recently the Malaysian Kenaf sector showed keen interest to support INFO activities and generously hosted the 2nd workshop of this 12 month Foresight project, which was held from 16 to 18 March in Putrajaya. The 1st international workshop was held in Leiden, The Netherlands. The Foresight project is facilitated by Prof. Ian Miles and Dr. Ozcan Saritas of Manchester Institute of Innovation Research, Manchester Business School, U.K.
The objectives of INFO are:
(1) Contribute towards income improvement and market position of natural fiber producers. The fiber producers are mainly rural famers and with low income levels, mostly in emerging economies and developing countries
(2) Contribute towards Sustainable Societies by encouraging the use of natural fibers on route to Bio Based Economies, this taking into account the concept of Planet, People and Profits.
(3) Contribute towards Biodiversity.
INFO works closely with the FAO Inter- Governmental Groups on Hard Fibers, Jute Kenaf and Allied Fibers. At present the focus is on natural fibers Abaca, Coir, Jute, Kenaf and Sisal.
Cooperating to Compete
Millions of people and thousands of households and farmers are dependent on the production of Abaca, Coir, Jute, Kenaf and Sisal fiber, often under conditions of poverty and living in rural areas. In a period where sustainable development is a key issue, renewable materials such as these natural fibers lost market share. Looking backwards the explanations for this state of business can be given but what about the future? How will the cultivation and production of these fibers look in the year 2020?The key reasons for the decline of these fibers could be attributed to lack of proactiveness and neglect of innovation. The producing countries often considered each other as competitors and were not able to find areas where consensus could be developed and collective action made possible. In a classical behaviour, the “outside world” was blamed for the state of affairs. Particularly the “Synthetics” were seen as the main culprit.
Around 2007 it became apparent to a group of producers that there was much to be gained by cooperating than destruction competition. For instance cooperation meant limited resources could be shared, learning from each other encouraged, collective R&D activities undertaken to accelerate the development of the sectors and energies focused to making a start in recovering the lost market share. But in order to be effective the group considered a collective long term vision is considered vital. Therefore instead of developing a plan based on the traditional Strategy Management approach, a Foresight approach was chosen.
The Foresight Project: The complexities faced due to groups diversity
Generally the minimum time horizon of Foresight is considered to be 10 years or more and this can cause methodological and also process challenges. This is even more true to INFO which is an international group of senior lev el policy makers and business managers representing a wide range of fibers. Most are used to day to day management practice of “Fire Fighting” and less busy with thinking 20 or 30 year ahead. So change in mind set becomes essential for this Foresight activity.
In addition, not many in the INFO group are familiar with the concepts and tools of Foresight. Similarity of vocabulary of Foresight and Strategy Management could be misleading as well. This is especially true for INFO members who may undertake Strategy Management in Small and Medium Sized Enterprises.So Growing Together – Future Forum 2020 is not only intended to produce a Foresight report (contents) but the process is an equally important component. In the project the 3 aspects of Contents, Processes and Tools & Methods of Foresight need equal attention. See figure 1. The challenge in this project is to keep all three components in balance to ensure success of the project. The time factor of the project of 12 months, geographical dispersion, limited funds and resources can add to the challenges of this project.
This makes Growing Together – Future Forum 2020 a special foresight project.
In Growing Together – Future Forum 2020, Prof. Ian Miles and Dr. Ozcan Saritas of Manchester Business School are following the systemic foresight methodology as shown in figure 2. In each of these components a mix of methods could be used for analytical purposes. As the project progresses it is becoming apparent that there are no prescriptions for finding the right mix of tools to be used in each component. This obviously is a trade-off between costs and time, meaning if there are sufficient funds and time data can be generated to enable analysis. According to Saritas (in Concept report of Growing Together- Future Forum 2020, 2011) a typical Multi-Method approach is illustrated in figure 3. However, due to the complexity of the project, how the methods per step can be mixed seems to be more intuitive than systematic. In the coming months this aspect will be explored further.
Growing Together – Future Forum 2020: The benefits so far
According to the planning the 1st phase of this Foresight project will conclude in the 4th quarter of 2011. It is the intention of INFO to institutionalize and embed Foresight thinking within the INFO member countries. This network should enable to increase the efficiency of applying Foresight activities in future.This foresight project has already achieved its objective of bringing a diverse group of international policy makers and business managers together and focus their thinking on the more longer term issues but still respecting the diversity of view points. The value of Foresight approach in creating a common long term vision for the natural fibers of concern to INFO is becoming apparent as the project progresses. The key objective of the foresight is to understand the long term futures that could unfold upon the different fibers and collective action planned and implemented by INFO for the common themes that will emerge. It is also envisaged that the outcome this project and the experienced gained will encourage the different INFO participants to use foresight for individual countries policy making.
The key objective of the foresight is to understand the long term futures that could unfold upon the different fibers and collective action planned and implemented by INFO for the common themes that will emerge.