Harnessing the Power of Youth for Agri-Food Systems Transformations

From the civil rights protests in the 1960s to the global climate movement–youth have been at the forefront of major social waves calling for change. Today, youth are adding their voice to the rippling call for global agri-food systems transformation.

The answer is clear–we need to focus on the untapped potential of youth to mobilize unprecedented global action for a better future of food for all.

The U.N. Food Systems Summits on September 23 collected ideas and solutions to fix our food systems, engaging more than 66,000 youth through dialogues over the course of 18 months. Their message was clear–they want to be in the driver’s seat. This is in large part because they will be most impacted by decisions that are shaping tomorrow’s food systems–especially as it relates to the rising effects of climate change.

The Summit highlighted the critical role of food systems in building back better after the COVID-19 pandemic, and to get us on track to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by the end of this decade. FAO, joined by the other Rome-Based food-agencies–World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)–committed to ensuring that the ambitious outcomes of the Summit are fulfilled by 2030, to realize more inclusive, resilient, equitable, and sustainable food systems.

To that effect, in alignment with the Summit, the Youth Committee of FAO launched the first-ever World Food Forum, a platform created for and led by youth. The aim of the World Food Forum was to spark the transformation of agri-food systems.  With its flagship event having taken place October 1-5, the World Food Forum featured over 65 sessions, including over 25 side events, artistic performances, innovation and film awards and masterclasses.  The Forum also prioritized marginalized voices by elevating perspectives from Indigenous youth and youth smallholder farmers.

The event also highlighted a youth assembly, which was tasked with developing an actionable plan and substantive guidance for governments and other key stakeholders, and a Youth Action Compendium.

The Forum awarded up-and-coming innovations led by youth such as Access Agriculture AISBL for enabling youth to use solar-powered technology to show farmer-to-farmer training videos in local languages in remote off-the-grid villages, and Bountifield International, which provides rural youth opportunities as postharvest technology entrepreneurs. Nafn Amdar and Arif Anwar from Jordan were recognized for their research in irrigation and water saving technologies.

It is impossible to overstate the critical role that youth play in agri-food systems. Today, youth account for most of the global population, and we need to make sure that there is an enabling environment to make agri-food system fields attractive and provide decent employment for our future generation. Lack of support, poor income, and access to finance, are some of the many barriers that discourage youth from entering these fields, especially in remote areas in developing countries where the situation is more dire.

The World Food Forum is just one of many key platforms needed to empower, mentor, and invest in youth to garner their interest and unleash their potential.

We are realizing movements back toward the land in every region of the world. Youth are increasingly using their creativity and innovative skills to create better, more accessible food systems that value producers and sustainability. Prioritizing and improving working conditions for individuals employed throughout agri-food systems is another essential component of ending poverty and hunger, especially since one-third of global food production comes from small-holder farmers who are more likely to face food insecurity.

FAO engages with young agri-entrepreneurs globally who need support to make their businesses and farms flourish. It also promotes youth employment in responsible agricultural investments by training them on innovative approaches through programs such as the Junior Farmer Field and Life School. Through a compilation of youth-centered initiatives in agriculture to address the impacts of climate change led by FAO and other collaborators, youth-focused projects produced stronger results on the ground.

At FAO North America, we aim to engage youth in global arenas that shape the future of our food. Through our partnership with George Washington University’s Planet Forward initiative, we have engaged storytellers to share solutions on the ground to achieve food security and cover their experiences of international gatherings such as the Committee on World Food Security (CFS).

As the World Food Day theme states, “Our actions are our future.” My message to youth on this World Food Day is that your voices are powerful, and your actions matter. Take bold steps towards the transformations you hope to see in global agri-food systems. For global leaders, investing in and harnessing the power of youth is our main hope if we want to secure a sustainable and food secure world.

Photo courtesy of Eyoel Kahssay, Unsplash

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