UN Women statement for International Youth Day, 2021: “Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health”

A greener, more equal and sustainable planet, with young people in the lead

On International Youth Day, we recognize the critical efforts of young people around the world to support and foster the health of our planet. Like 20-year-old Kehkashan Basu, a Generation Equality Action Coalition youth leader who is working to transform traditional agricultural practices into those that can support the resilience and empowerment of marginalized groups while bringing better yields and maintaining environmental balance. Through her organization, Green Hope Foundation, she is also distributing livestock and organic seeds so that more than 6,000 people in Bangladesh have a long-term source of income; something which enables women to lead in their communities and send their daughters to school.

Ms. Basu is just one of many young people around the world who are unapologetically demanding  – and leading – urgent changes to our food systems. They are at the forefront of developing youth-led climate change solutions, adopting sustainable consumption patterns, providing solutions for better agriculture and supporting sustainable value chains.

This work is critical because healthy food systems mean prosperity for people and the planet. Yet, in many contexts around the world, conflict, natural disasters, climate change, pests and plagues continue to undermine food security. Today, some 1.2 billion people are at risk of drought or extreme water scarcity and more than one in five children worldwide lives with disabilities related to malnourishment. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the fault lines in food systems, spotlighting the vulnerabilities of farmers, small-scale producers, rural women and youth. At the same time, intensifying threats to the peace and stability of the most vulnerable and marginalized populations – especially women and girls – are affecting markets and supply chains for both major and small-scale farmers. To address these complex issues, we need to be intentional about building sustainable and inclusive agri-food systems while addressing rural poverty, the challenges of feeding a growing population and the effects of climate change.

An essential part of this is ensuring the meaningful participation and engagement of young people in transforming food systems. We need to push for entrepreneurial activities for and with them, promote rural employment, provide essential trainings and boost agricultural marketing support, including technical production for young farmers. This requires a more holistic and inclusive framework that addresses these complex issues through integrated approaches. There is also an urgent need to intensify the use of science and innovation in agriculture and food systems that can be customized to specific local contexts.

By harnessing local innovation and facilitating the co-creation of knowledge by youth we can work to transform food systems and build back a greener, more equal and sustainable planet, with young people in the lead.