International Youth Day 2021: Young people are key players in building sustainable food systems

Published August 12, 2021, 5:53 PM

by John Legaspi

After the recommendation made by the World Conferences of Ministers Responsible for Youth in Lisbon to the United Nations General Assembly in 1990, the world has dedicated Aug. 12 of every year for observance of International Youth Day.

Photo by Thor Garlan from Pexel

Aiming to shed more light on the socio-economic and socio-political concerns that surround the world’s young dwellers, the day is usually celebrated with symposiums, campaigns, community concerts, and other events. With the ongoing global pandemic, however, the world changes the way it does the event, but not its mission.

According to the UN, this year’s International Youth Day revolves around the theme “Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health.” It acknowledges the vital role of the young generation in restoring the planet and protecting life, “while integrating biodiversity in the transformation of the food systems.”

Photo from the UN

“Young people are at the frontlines of the struggles to build a better future for all,” says UN Secretary-General António Guterres. “The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the dire need for the kind of transformational change they seek. And young people must be full partners in that effort. This year’s International Youth Day highlights solutions developed by young innovators to address challenges of our food systems.”

“But young people cannot do it on their own. They need allies to make sure they are engaged, included, and understood,” he continues. “I urge everyone to guarantee young people a seat at the table as we build a world based on inclusive, fair, and sustainable development for all.”

Apart from our current pandemic climate, there are other global concerns—such as poverty, social inclusion, biodiversity conservation, climate change, among others—that pose to continue to threaten our future. Based on the 2021 ECOSOC Youth Forum (EYF), having equitable food systems is important in addressing those issues. That it can be achieved by young ones making informed decisions about food choices and educating them on sustainable and healthier options.

“Food systems include not only the basic elements of how we get food from farms to the table, but also all of the processes and infrastructure involved in feeding a population, and the negative externalities that can be generated during the process, such as air and ocean pollution as well as desertification,” the UN says. “There is also the risk of zoonotic diseases that can result from unsustainable farming practices and the climate crisis. Population health is also key in addressing food systems challenges, especially as nutrition-related chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some forms of cancer are major contributors to the global burden of disease.”

Photo courtesy of the ATI-Region 2

In the Philippines, getting young minds involved in the process of acquiring a sustainable food system is recognized by the government. Last May 2021, the Department of Agriculture (DA) conducted its first-ever “Youth in Agriculture Summit.”

“The Filipino youth is a key driver to ensure the attainment of a food-secure and resilient Philippine agriculture, leading to a better performing economy, today and in succeeding years,” says Agriculture Secretary William Dar. “Given the country’s aging farming population, the engagement of the youth is crucial to boost the agri-fishery sector.

A report by the DA shows a decline in the farm workforce in 2007. From 2015 to 2020, the employment dropped from 11.8 to 9.8 million. According to the department, the youth sector is moving onto other industries as they see agriculture as a “dying and obsolete industry.”

While the statistics predict an unlikely future for the country’s food and agriculture, it is worth-knowing that a number of young Filipinos are stepping in to not make that happen and inspire their fellow youth to take action.

Among them is young chef Louise Mabulo, who founded the Cacao Project, an initiative that provides cacao seedlings and other short term crops to farmers in San Fernando, Camarines Sur to help them build sustainable livelihoods. Another is Carlo Samaoang who created modern-day organic grow kits with his brand MNLGrowkits. Who could forget Ana Patricia Non’s community pantry, which focused on the importance of food accessibility this time of pandemic.

Louise Mabulo

Carlo Samaoang

Ana Patricia Non

“Our youth plays a crucial role in the government’s food security target,” Sec. Dar says. “We need them to get on board as they have the defining attributes when it comes to bright and fresh ideas, their out-of-the-box thinking, and full grasp on modern trends and technologies will be a game changer in food production.”

Read more about 2021 International Youth Day and its virtual events here.