16 Oct 2020

Our actions, our future: Young people transforming food systems

Maryam Ahmed Youth Leader for Nutrition

On World Food Day, the Youth Leaders for Nutrition (YL4N) explain how young people can make food systems fairer and more sustainable, in the face of challenges to progress on malnutrition, like Covid-19.

Why young people? Why food systems?

Food systems affect everyone and incorporate everything from the way food is produced and distributed, to how it is consumed. As Youth Leaders for Nutrition, we know that the role of young people in transforming food systems is critical. Our generation of youth is the largest in history and has a valuable role to play in making our food systems more sustainable, resilient and effective.

To build back better following the setbacks triggered by Covid-19, we need to create better food systems that meet the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable. But our food systems are far more vulnerable without the active participation of young people. We represent the most active and energetic age group and, more importantly, we consume more than any other age group. To build better food systems, young people must be leading the way.

Inclusiveness and equity in the food system

Africa has a large youth population, but young people in Africa tend to be more likely to migrate to urban areas than to move into agriculture. However, there are places where young people are engaged in the agri-food system. According to YouthPower, young people are participating in the agri-food system in a variety of ways in Namibia, Kenya, some parts of South Africa and Nigeria, through formal and informal wage work, unpaid family labour, self-employment and cooperative membership.

In developing nations – and everywhere – there is an urgent need to promote inclusiveness in the production of food. This makes sure the food system is sustainable and reduces the nutrition inequity gap so that everyone can access healthy and nutritious food easily. We have found that if food systems are not gender-inclusive, this has a negative impact on food production, food preparation and nutrition – especially for children.

In several southern African countries, for example, rural women are the primary food crop producers while men are more involved in animal husbandry or labour off the farm. Some studies even show that across Africa 70% of food is produced by women. But these women are also often responsible for the care of children, the sick and elderly, and know what food is most needed by the family.

Young people transforming food systems around the world

As Youth Leaders for Nutrition, we are taking action to address gender in nutrition. Hanitra Rarison, a Youth Leader from Madagascar led the co-creation of the Girl Guides Nutrition Programme ‘Girl Powered Nutrition’. She explains: “In my community, girls are undervalued. But through Girl Powered Nutrition, we use peer education to help spread knowledge of the importance of girls’ nutrition in the community and changes in habits are now being seen.”

Another Youth Leader, Anayat Sidhu is leading a campaign to increase understanding of the connection between access to good nutrition and girls’ educational outcomes. As she states: “A well-nourished girl who has access to education will learn more and earn more over her lifetime than her counterpart who does not.” The campaign also highlights men’s role in advocating for children’s, girls’ and women’s nutrition, in order to advance gender equality.

How to support young people transforming food systems

Governments around the world have an important role to play in encouraging young people to participate in redesigning our food systems. This is essential to ensure everyone has access to a healthy and nutritious diet. There are many ways governments can engage young people – whether by making agriculture more appealing through new technologies or making the system more financially rewarding.

We have noticed that societies often value agricultural professions less than corporate professions. This is a significant barrier to younger generations getting involved in building more inclusive and resilient food systems and needs to be addressed.

Scholarships for studying new technologies in food production can also support young people to participate in food system change. Research on new methods of dealing with food waste and pest control should also be better funded to increase the appeal of pursuing much-needed research in these areas.

About Youth Leaders for Nutrition (YL4N)

The Youth Leaders for Nutrition are a group of 13 young advocates from all around the world who are advocating for an end to malnutrition in all its forms. The programme was launched in 2018 by the SUN Civil Society Network, in partnership with Save the Children UK, RESULTS UK and Global Citizen.

*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors alone and do not represent the official position of the Global Nutrition Report or associated individuals, institutions and organisations, unless explicitly stated.

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