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Youth as the Future of the Global Food System

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs brought together leaders from across public and private sectors in Washington, D.C., at the annual Global Food Security Symposium in March 2018. The theme of the 2018 Symposium centered on Youth for Growth, and on creating and expanding opportunities for meaningful employment for youth in food and agriculture, connecting these populations with vital human resources like technical assistance and mentorship, and addressing perceptions of agriculture as an unprofitable and/or unappealing industry.

Currently, the world faces a rapid increase in youth populations as well as a critical demand for sustainable food production. Right now, one-third of the world population (over 2.3 billion people) is between the ages of 15 and 34. By 2050, it is estimated that the global population will increase by 2 billion people to around 10 billion people and that a 50 percent increase in food production will be necessary to meet the needs of this growing population. The speakers and panelists at the Symposium addressed the idea that these two challenges can be solved together that through empowering and engaging youth around the world, countries and communities can improve global food security through innovative approaches to agriculture and food production.

The Symposium coincided with the release of the Chicago Council's annual Global Food Security Report. This year's report provides a framework for the joint objective of global youth engagement and global food security. According to the report, low- and middle-income countries are currently experiencing the highest rates of growth in youth populations. In addition, for the most part, agriculture remains the largest single economic sector and source of employment in these countries. If young people can be trained and empowered to take a central role in agriculture and food production, this could be an effective approach for building a resilient food system and creating economic opportunities for youth in these countries.

The 2018 Global Food Security Report provides four specific policy recommendations for the United States government. The first is for the executive branch to establish a long-term strategy for global food security through the National Security Council (NSC) in coordination with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The second is for Congress to increase funding for agricultural research and development through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as well as through investment in the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). The third is to invest in human capital development in food insecure regions through nutritional programs, education and vocational training, and programs for youth entrepreneurship. The fourth is for the U.S. government to support international regulatory norms for business and trade that create job opportunities for youth in food insecure regions.

A recurrent theme during the Symposium was the need for multi-sectoral approaches to unite individuals working in nutrition, agriculture, environmental conservation, healthcare, and more. “We are starting to recognize that climate has everything to do with agriculture, agriculture has everything to do with nutrition, nutrition has everything to do with the health of people, people have everything to do with the health of the planet, and the planet's health has everything to do with climate change,” said Katharine Kreis, Director of Strategic Initiatives and International Development for PATH.

Several speakers also advised against taking a prescriptive approach to addressing challenges internationally. “There are people there who are doing the work; the only missing link is resources,” said chef and writer Tunde Wey, “Let’s transfer resources in a more equitable way, and let folks do what they’ve always been doing.” Next Generation Delegate Amie Alexander, MPS and JD, Law and Public Policy, University of Arkansas, added, “Listening is important, because a lot of times we want to take the solutions we think we have and go impose them on someone without asking them what the problem is.”

The conference also addressed the importance of not only listening to the voices of young people but supporting them as leaders and partners in food and agriculture initiatives. “Give more responsibility to the youth,” said Linda Kwamboka, Cofounder and Director of M-Farm, a technology platform that began in Kenya. “They’re the ones who know what the problem is, and they’re the ones who actually know what the solution is,” said Gouri Mirpuri, Cofounder of The Learning Farm, speaking about the youth participating in The Learning Farm’s program in Indonesia. This message also extended to farmers: “Listen to farmers; maybe what you are thinking is not right. They know exactly what they want,” said Chetna Sinha, Founder and Chairperson of the Mann Deshi Foundation, speaking about lessons learned in designing credit products to serve the needs of rural women farmers in India.

The original article is published at FoodTank's website.