Youth movement leads charge worldwide for food systems transformation ahead of UN summit

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Updated: February 28, 2021

A wave of self-organised youth-led groups across the world has joined the growing momentum behind the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit.

Young champions from Brazil to India, Cameroon to Fiji, and more than 100 countries around the world have been engaging in public debates across the five priority areas or Action Tracks, which include food security and nutrition, sustainable consumption, environmental protection, poverty and resilience.

Where the Summit’s Action Tracks work to highlight the essential pathways to support the transformation of food systems and progress toward Agenda 2030 at local, national, regional, and global levels, a set of cross-cutting Levers of Changefocus on key barriers to progress and areas of their linkages and coordinated action.

Youth empowerment is so important to food systems transformation that it has been placed into all Summit work streams and structures. Young leaders have been included among the vice-chairs for the Action Tracks, while youth empowerment is a common theme across four “levers of change” identified by Summit organisers as among the most influential factors for delivering the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

During the Summit’s 24-hour Global Relay Conversation on World Food Day last year, Sophie Healy-Thow, a youth hunger and nutrition advocacy from Ireland, noted that “there are young people situated in every decision-making place within the Food Systems Summit and that’s completely new.” Sophie and many youth leaders like her have signed up as Food Systems Heroes to commit to improving food systems in their own communities.

“We cannot implement the science without also addressing questions of access, equality and finance, and we cannot build a better future for tomorrow without including the youth of today,” said Dr. Agnes Kalibata, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for the Food Systems Summit. “I am encouraged to see how the different work streams of the Summit are coming together with ideas to create a more sustainable, more inclusive food system that will change the trajectory of how we deliver on our goals in this Decade of Action.”

“The levers of change – from human rights and gender equality to finance and innovation – are critical factors that will make or break the transformation of food systems,” Dr. Kalibata added.

Each lever of change will engage a community of experts to highlight key issues to inform the Summit evidence base, dialogues and Action Tracks.

Jemimah Njuki, Director for Africa at International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) is leading the lever of change on gender equality and women’s empowerment. Seven areas of equality cut across priority areas of the Summit including: equal rights to land, economic empowerment of women in food systems, unpaid care and agricultural labour burden, women’s leadership in food systems, access to technologies, changing norms and addressing institutional barriers, and gender responsive agricultural and food systems policies.

The lever of change on human rights, led by the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Michael Fakhri, aims to help ensure that human rights and law play a central role in all Summit efforts and the outcomes. The Special Rapporteur will help bring a systematic understanding of the policy instruments, legal frameworks, resolutions, and treaties that already exist for the Summit’s efforts to focus on action and implementation, building upon the strong foundations of multilateralism and rights that already exist.

Martien Van Nieuwkoop, World Bank Global Director for the Agriculture and Food Global Practice, is the lead of the finance lever of change to bring together a community of experts to assess investment need, incentives, and solutions that address inclusion and risk. The lever is closely supported by Johan Swinnen, IFPRI Director General, as well as the Food and Land Use Coalition to bring on-board the best evidence for government, private sector, the finance sector, and other actors. Its objectives across all five Action Tracks are to leverage substantial resources, look into ways to de-risk innovations and accelerating change, and mobilize private capital, including from financial institutions, business and consumers. It further identified specific questions and issues to be brought into discussions for each Action Track.

The lever of change on innovation, aims to bring together public, private and social sector innovation partners committed to make innovation a significant enabling factor for food systems transformation. Led by Sean de Cleene, Head of Food System Initiative and Member of the Executive Committee at the World Economic Forum, the innovation community has identified a twin-track approach to support specific action tracks and new initiatives, and a cross-cutting agenda across business, scientific, technological and social innovations.

Emerging areas of focus include data and digitalisation, science and technology, national and regional ecosystems as well as societal and institutional innovation models, including traditional and indigenous knowledge.

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