The many futures of agriculture over 100 years: a speculative design approach

On any given day, you are dependent on water, as a producer or a consumer, on a local, national, and global scale. That’s why it’s so important to design a relationship between humanity and water that is tangible, equitable, and sustainable.

Futuristic imagery of utopian urban and agricultural landscape
Eli Wood
Karina Hernandez
Wayne Kim
Renee Yu
Michelle Shin

From the products you create to the foods you consume, the future of agriculture is intimately tied to water in three critical dimensions: availability, awareness, and usage.

To power, feed, and sustain the world, we must innovate to restore the balance between humans and water. But how?

Read on for an in-depth walk-through of the process our Futures team used to explore the many potential futures of agriculture.

Speculative design process


During the two weeks of development for this point of view, we began by identifying our core focus. We reflected on the history of innovations within our chosen industry and humanity’s relationship in the space. Next, we analysed drivers of change, tools used to project the future and catalyse innovation. Upon gathering these signals of the future, we wrote scenarios of possible realities that might emerge without humanity's intervention. Finally, we reimagined humanity’s relationship in this industry as speculative concept vignettes to provoke conversation on how we can work towards these new fictional realities.

In a team vote, we landed on ‘The Futures of Farming Technology in 100 Years’. Our next activity would be to reflect on the history of agriculture and humanity’s relationship with agriculture to gain background context, identify trends, and avoid repeating the past when jumping into the future.

The scope was huge; we travelled back thousands of years transitioning from the age of hunter-gatherer and into the agrarian society of farmers.

To understand this evolution better we built a diagram with technology innovations, historic events, religion, policies, food demand, new norms and behaviour, and population growth. The diagram made it clear to us of the boundlessness of factors that influence our relationship with food and affect agriculture.

Timeline graphic depicting events and behaviors that have impacted agriculture over the course of thousands of years

Key takeaways

Our major takeaways from reflecting on the history of agriculture can be summarised in constants, variables, and trends.


Icons relating to the articles three drivers: constants, variables, & trends

Human needs that won’t change in 100 years.

+ Humans will continue to require oxygen
+ Consumption is necessary to sustain life
+ Humans seek nutrition in water and food
+ We need to feel belonging and place


Icons relating to the articles three drivers: constants, variables, & trends

Factors or conditions that change over time.

+ Food yields and resulting availability
+ Population growth depends on food
+ Automation and technology application
+ Commodity crops change over time
+ Types & locations for farming: farms in the air, underground, in the sea


Icons relating to the articles three drivers: constants, variables, & trends

Current developing phenomena we might expect in the future.

+ Smart-crop monitoring and automation
+ Ethical management of resources
+ From Tractors to Drones and Satellites
+ Innovation in genes and chemicals
+ Consumer push for sustainability

Drivers of change

But identifying trends didn’t provide enough context into the challenges people may be required to solve for, and our list was not extensive enough for us to synthesise in order to determine the context by which they had been sparked. We chose to continue our conversation using Drivers of Change, internal and external pressures that shape and change their built environment.

Our initial drivers of change catalogue provided us with a comprehensive list of 150 active and specific social, technological, economic, environmental, and political issues and factors applicable across multiple industries. We organised all 150 into broader issues and factors identified as key drivers of change within agriculture and grouped them by local-, national-, and global-scales.

Once organised, we were able to create pathways and bridges between drivers of change to reveal their interconnectedness and develop nine narratives of future implications that addressed topics of waste, water, climate change, demographics, energy, and urbanisation.

Drivers of change diagram

The narrative

By observing and identifying shared and recurring links between these nine distinct narratives, we combined them into a greater one—one of rapid industrialisation, geopolitical conflict, and extreme climate change. We identified connections between global challenges, water, and its specific impact on local communities.

This greater narrative helped us identify areas of influence so that we could assume responsibility in shaping the future. By revisiting our constants, variables, and trends, and embedding them into ‘How might we’ thinking, we began the process of detaching ourselves from our pessimistic view and shifting into a more optimistic mindset.

After discussion and voting, our team chose to open ourselves up to potential solutions for the following:

Further evolution of the drivers of change diagram

We sketched our ideas to visualise speculative futures of 2122 based on the responses to these HMW questions. Three stories of multiple worlds that embraced our full humanity and our relationship to water.

Wayne’s concept

Everyday awareness of virtual water among consumers & businesses

In the future, water will continue to be a diminishing, precious resource for the means of production. Everyday products will have a barcode providing transparency into how much water was used to create the product, underlining the importance of virtual water.

Businesses creating consumer packaged goods will now be incentivised to follow this awareness, leading to changes in how industries will create food & products.

Forward-thinking companies will evolve their means of production and distribution. These companies will become category definers: revolutionising consumer preferences, developing meaningful brand loyalty, and capturing new market shares.

illustration of individual reviewing the virtual water score of a product

Karina’s concept

An ode to water

Centred around community, connection, and embodied movement, “Ode to Water” visualises a racially, ethnically, and religiously diverse village of green-covered, coral-like mud homes and structures that are sustained through ritualistic practices of offering and rejoicing before a large drop.

“Every Sunday, the villagers' pilgrimage to the centre, form a circle around The Drop, gently lock their hands with one another, and sing in melody as water that had been collected throughout the week is renewed—rising into a net, before it flows through the town and into 12 hovering “clouds” to make it rain and light up the sky.”

Illustration of a community celebrating the ritualistic renewal of water

Eli’s concept

The connected farmer is admired and valued

We see a farmer’s intimate relationship being empowered by technology. Driven by data to increase food yields and to define the shape of their farms. There will be an invisible link between the natural world and the increasing food demands made real by the resulting food production.

The internet of cities and infrastructure will create an internet of farms, and therefore connect the internet of water across urban-rural divides.

Illustration of farmer utilizing advanced technology for his farm

The future of farming in 100 years is dependent on people’s ability to generate a diverse range of solutions that make the relationship with water tangible, equitable, and sustainable.

To innovate and restore this requires a balancing act between humans and water to continue to power, feed, and sustain all of life.

Interested in exploring other futures with us? Get in touch for an exploratory discussion. We’ll help you frame problems, discuss forecasting research, and reveal potential paths forward.