Aimed at galvanizing change to how our food is produced, delivered and consumed and mitigating a growing global food crisis, a youth-driven World Food Forum opened here today, seeking to boost engagement by young people, science and innovation, and investment.
The multi-faceted event, hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), is the second of its kind. It follows last year’s path breaking forum which drew 20,000 participants and 75 partners in the search for the best solutions in overhauling global agrifood systems.
“You have created a global movement with us,” FAO Director-General QU Dongyu told young people in his opening address to the forum. “You are making your voices heard, and dynamically felt. You are inciting and leading real action. The innovation and solutions-based thinking of young friends and supporters gives me confidence that we are on the right path.” Qu added: “The agrifood future is in all our hands and we are convinced it is a better future for you and for all of us.”
In a message read on his behalf, Pope Francis said that in this period of interconnected crises, the challenge is “not simply to give food but to give of ourselves in the service of others, recognizing and guaranteeing the centrality of the human person. This priority can only be safeguarded if we once again believe in the fraternity and solidarity which must inspire relations between individuals and between peoples.”
Global leaders address gathering
Among global leaders participating in the opening ceremony in person, President Xiomara Castro of Honduras called for the forum to come up with holistic solutions for eradicating hunger in the short and medium term; President Andrzej Duda of Poland paid tribute to young people’s commitment to the transformation of food systems to make them more responsive to humanity’s needs; President Carlos Manuel Vila Nova of Sao Tome and Principe underlined that as one of the Small Island Developing States, his country brings a special voice to the forum, advocating increased global cooperation to accelerate agrifood system transformation.
Other heads of state and government addressing the gathering virtually included Laurentino Cortizo Cohen, President of Panama; Jose Pedro Castillo Terrones, President of Peru; Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh. Patrizio Bianchi, Minister of Public Education of Italy, and violinist and climate advocate Lea Bruckner were among the other speakers.
The difference with this year’s WFF is that is comprises three distinct, yet interlinked tracks, each approaching and supporting the transformation of global agrifood systems from a unique perspective:
The WFF Global Youth Forum will focus on the theme “Healthy Diets. Healthy Planet.” The aim is to raise awareness among young people and spark action on the connection between the climate crisis and access to safe and nutritious food and healthy diets. The Science and Innovation Forum will highlight the crucial role of science, technology and innovation in transforming our agrifood systems and ending hunger. It will celebrate the latest developments in Science and Innovation and explore scientific advances to speed up our implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Hand-in-Hand Investment Forum will provide a platform for national authorities, global and national public and private entities, multilateral development banks and donors, to explore opportunities to finance the Hand-in-Hand Initiative. This is one of FAO’s flagship programmes, aiming to pair up sources of funding with countries where investment in agrifood systems is most needed.
The forum comes as the latest State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) Report by FAO and its partners estimated that up to 828 million people faced hunger in 2021 – 46 million more than in 2020 and 150 million more than in 2019.
Multiple drivers of food crisis
Among the factors causing the spiraling global food security crisis are conflicts, the pandemic and the impacts of the climate crisis. Further exacerbating the problems are soaring inflation and dramatic rises in the prices of fertilizers, threatening to create the scenario of a food access crisis now, and the likelihood of a food availability and food affordability crisis for the next season.
The World Food Forum provides a crucial and relevant platform for addressing these challenges; how to transform agrifood systems for healthier diets is a key theme of the Youth Forum; many of the most vulnerable countries in the current food security crisis are presenting their pitches for crucial investments in the Hand in Hand Investment Forum and how to ensure that small-scale producers in the Global South can access and afford advances in technology to narrow the ‘technological divide’ is among the focus areas of the Science and Innovation Forum.
This year the WFF – an independent global network originally conceived by the FAO Youth Committee – has already hosted a range of events with participants from all corners of the world. The Youth Assembly has held consultations, identified policy priorities from all regions and appointed Regional Focal Points to provide strategic direction. There are innovation awards, including the Transformative Research Challenge, with a new PPR (Peste des Petits Ruminants contagious animal disease) special prize and the Startup Innovation Awards in partnership with Xtreme Tech Challenge, with a new prize for Resilience Innovation. The WFF has also established a Young Scientists Group, with 20 outstanding young scientists under 35, aimed at building awareness and education.
Since it came into being, the forum has organized events on themes including policy, innovation, education, cooking, and the arts and engaged thousands of young people and youth advocates around the world spanning over 200 countries and territories. It has hosted start-up and research competitions to bolster new solutions, held a film festival and concerts to raise awareness of pressing issues, hosted an art exhibit, roundtables and assemblies with youth and indigenous groups and convened educational masterclasses featuring global leaders.
The common thread has been the crucial importance of creating a space where youth voices are heard, and their ideas can be transformed into actions.