Youth: The Hope For Our Future
ast year I had the privilege of being a United Nations Food Systems Champion and amongst the many people I met was Marie-Claire Graf, a climate youth activist and United Nations Youth Climate Champion. We were, and still are, united in seeking food systems transformation for the benefit of all life on this planet.
At the UN Food Systems Summit, in which we both played a part, it was great to see the strength of feeling, commitment and leadership from the young people present, of which Marie-Claire and her co-author here, Rayan Kassem, are outstanding examples.
I do hope that you enjoy this particularly special guest blog.
Why do we want to be engaged? Nothing about us, without us.
Over half of the world’s population is below the age of 35. We, the youth of today, are the largest generation of young people in history. Youth are not only the leaders of tomorrow but are, in fact, leaders of today, yet are systematically excluded from decision-making positions especially in the food system sector.
Many young people are pushing for systemic transformations, not just incremental changes, and hence demanding bold and unprecedented actions for a just, equitable and more sustainable future — from driving climate and biodiversity action, to advocating for better diets, to identifying innovative solutions to address global challenges of today. Youth have demonstrated that they are no longer willing to take a backseat and are pushing for policies and actions to drive positive changes at all levels — at community, national, regional and global levels — for a food system nourishing us and the planet.
We joined the youth delegation to the UN Food Systems Summit because we saw an opportunity for the first time ever at a global level to transform our food systems into sustainable, equitable, and resilient ones. Being part of such a delegation meant access to world leaders from heads of states, UN generals, and leading organisations. It not only meant we were going to push for ambitious commitments, but also an opportunity to empower young people through our presence. Given the summit is over, as young people who have been involved in UN summits previously, we were very proud and happy of the inclusivity given to young people at this summit. The connections we made and engagement the youth movement has been offered have been incredible since then.
Hence young people have been part of the UN Food System (UNFSS) process since the very beginning, by driving and demanding the urgently needed food system transformation and creating a world with good, healthy food for all.
Why our engagement has been important
Meaningful youth leadership in the UNFSS process has enabled representation of a broad diversity of youth voices from across the globe and through a variety of different approaches and strategies demonstrating a potential model or good practice for youth engagement in similar future processes. With this approach, young people have been able to push the boundaries of possibilities and responsibilities that come with ‘age’ and have demanded for a new framework that does not view them as mere beneficiaries for policy-making, but as stakeholders who have an equal say in the future of our food systems.
What do we want? Our Call to Action
As citizens of the world and as engaged youth advocates and youth leaders in the Summit process, young people call for ambitious and committed actions to drive urgent food systems transformation.
There is no time to wait. And we cannot do this alone. We invite everyone to join hands with us.
Our three main priorities are:-
- That everyone everywhere has access to healthy, sustainable and resilient food. Young people can make choices every day to eat more sustainable and nutritious diets and strongly advocate for it within their communities and through social media.
- We are ready to support, advocate and take action to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss as needed to drive the urgent transformation towards a liveable future.
- Livelihoods matter. People working in food systems, many of whom are young people, are amongst the hardest-working and in many parts of the world, are sadly the ones paid less than minimum or living wages. We will continue to advocate for fair and decent wages for people working in food systems.
We recognise that transforming food systems requires collective actions!
Towards this effort, we call for support from governments, businesses, civil society, philanthropy, and other stakeholders to:
- Develop policy incentives, increase investment in nutrition and restrict unhealthy food marketing
- Eliminate barriers such as finance, land, and information that prevent young people from meaningfully engaging in different components of food systems. Decision-makers involved in the UNFSS and those in positions of power should determine how we can increase the minimum wage of people working within food systems, especially women and the young.
- Call for inter-generational co-leadership of the development of member states’ revised Nationally Determined Contributions that must include food systems.
Although the UNFSS was successful in creating the first-ever global momentum on food systems, it did not target regional contexts in particular. The youth Regional Focal Points demanded a more contextual focus on regional and local problems. The summit also failed to highlight the importance of reducing industrial animal agriculture. This was an issue that was brought up during the summit by youth and NGOs. Animal welfare, dietary behavioural change, and animal farming were not a priority during the UNFSS.
What now? Our plans
Act4Food Act4Change, a youth-led global campaign, was launched after the UN Food Systems Summit to mobilise young people for food systems transformation. The campaign identified 17 Actions4Change voting on by over 100,000 youth and are in the process of creating projects to induce the results.
Real Food Systems, a community advocating for more plant-based food, has initiated an advocacy campaign to promote a sustainable food system approach in countries’ food-based dietary guidelines by highlighting the environmental impact of a country’s food consumption behaviour. Lebanon will be its first target in West Asia. It has also created a Youth Leadership Programme that will equip youth with the necessary skills needed to conduct their own initiatives. It has also supported 15 small-scale organic produce in over 10 countries worldwide by channelling funds to young people who applied the approach themselves.
In addition, the World Food Forum and FAO launched a grant for small- to large-scale projects led by youth to transform food systems. So far, the group has grown to over 100 entrepreneurial candidates.
All eyes are on COP27 right now (6–18th Nov). Less than 70 days separate us from yet again advocating for food systems to play a major role in solutions for the climate crisis by being incorporated in countries’ climate action plans. Food systems play a pivotal role in the climate crisis being responsible for over 30% of GHG emissions. Young people must continue to push to include food systems in COP agendas.
We have come a long way since the UNFSS. Representing thousands of young people from across the globe to secure spaces for young people, the youth movement is growing. More engagement is being provided, with more funding and more resources all supporting youth to scale up and be directly involved in the solutions. Our movement’s momentum will proceed through its successes until our food systems are sustainable, resilient, and equitable for all.
Marie-Claire Graf is a climate justice activist, youth advocate and public speaker for a just transition towards sustainable development and ambitious climate action through her diverse engagement in several initiatives on a local, national and international level. It’s her aspiration to inspire and empower youth to take meaningful, impactful and positive actions to create a momentum for change. She was initiating and is leading several associations and movements around climate action, sustainable development, youth and women empowerment, food systems transformation and education such as Sustainability Week International, Real Food Systems or Youth Constituency YOUNGO of UN Climate Change. Through her work, she has been recognised with different awards and prizes such as the United Nations Youth Climate Champion. At the UNFSS she served as Vice Chair on Youth and coordinated youth engagement for the UNFSS processes. She loves nature and especially mountains and oceans and hence is often hiking or sailing, while at home she likes gardening.
Rayan Kassem’s expertise spans across food systems, nature-based solutions, youth advocacy, climate justice, and water consumption and diets on which he writes for a publication. Rayan believes that advocating for the protection of nature through youth engagement on a continuous basis is necessary amid instability, and he is eager to grow the potential for nature protection in West Asia and globally. He is the West Asia Regional Director at Youth4Nature, the regional youth focal point for the Middle East and North Africa in support of the UNFSS, a youth leader with Real Food Systems and Act4Food Act4Change.