When Wizards meet Prophets

Will you help us write a new narrative to bridge the gap between the ‘wizards’ and the ‘prophets’? Historian of science Charles C. Mann has coined these terms to differentiate between techno-optimists (wizards) and strict ecologists (prophets) and their conflicting views in the food and agriculture debate. During this seminar we hope to find a new narrative that reconciles the wizards and the prophets views.

Organised by Food Hub & Wageningen Academy

vr 29 maart 2019 09:00 to 17:30

Setup Campus WUR
Venue Impulse, building number 115
Stippeneng 2
6708 WE Wageningen
+31 317-482828
Price EUR250.00

New narratives for the future of food

By 2050, the global population will have grown to around 9.5 billion people. Can our world support that? And what kind of world will it be? How do we feed the planet by then? ‘Simply’ producing more food is clearly not the solution. Today’s agricultural system is however largely based on increasing yields and reducing costs – at the risk of exhausting our planet’s resources. We know we need to change this pattern. But how?

Reconciling 'tech' and 'eco'

One of the most interesting contributions to the discussion on the future of food comes from the book The Wizard and the Prophet, written by the American award-winning journalist Charles C. Mann. Mann identifies that the experts who suggest answers to the question how to feed the world in the future?, broadly fall into two categories. For these categories, Mann coined the terms ‘wizards’ and ‘prophets’. Wizards tell us to have faith in scientific progress and technological innovation. Science and tech will help us fix the food system, as they have proven to do historically (for instance during the Green Revolution – the wizards hold Norman Borlaug to be their spiritual father). Prophets, on the other hand, believe that we cannot take, or create, more than the planet has to offer. Our prosperity will lead us to ruin, and the only solution is to cut back. The Prophets’ founding father is William Vogt – the pioneering ecologist who argued that humans have exceeded the planet’s ‘carrying capacity’.    

The perspectives in this ecology versus technology debate are now more divergent than ever. In 2018, journalist Hidde Boersma and Food Hub co-founder Joris Lohman stirred up the discussion in the Dutch context in an essay in the Volkskrant, arguing to end the polarization in the debate on the future of food.


During this seminar, Louise O. Fresco, president of Wageningen University & Research and other leading experts will present and discuss their view on this subject. How relevant is the discussion about the different paradigms in the debate about the future of food and agriculture? How can we bridge the gap between the so-called ‘ecologists' and ‘technologists’, wizards and prophets? The goal of the seminar is to create a new narrative for the future of our food system, that may gain support from both wizards and prophets, and everyone ideologically in between.

Target group

This symposium is open for professionals in Agri & Food, such as entrepreneurs, government, NGOs, research and retail. There is a limited number of 15 students that can join the symposium for free. Students that are interested, are requested to write a short motivation letter to: before March 8th.

Line up speakers

- Prof. dr. ir. Louise O. Fresco,
President of the Executive Board, Wageningen University & Research

- Dr. ir. Martin Scholten,
Managing Director Animal Sciences Group, Wageningen University & Research

- Dr. ir. Ernst van den Ende,
Managing Director Plant Sciences Group, Wageningen University & Research

- Prof. dr. ir. Rogier Schulte,
Professor Plants Sciences, department farming systems ecology, Wageningen University & Research

- Prof. dr. ir. Imke de Boer,
Professor of Animal Production Systems, Wageningen University & Research

- Prof. dr. ir. Jan Willem Erisman,
CEO Louis Bolk Institute

- Charles C. Mann,
American journalist and author

- Simon Vink,
Spokesperson Executive Board, Wageningen University & Research

- Joris Lohman,
Co-founder Food Hub

- Hidde Boersma,
Science journalist, essayist and documentary film maker