Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Sustainable Peace and Security

On 12 August 2021, UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa and the Institute of Peace and Security Studies (IPSS) at Addis Ababa University celebrated the 2021 International Youth Day under the global theme “Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health”, in a virtual event that was attended by the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General to the Horn of Africa, and representatives from Africa Union Commission, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Pan African Youth Network on Culture of Peace, Africa Youth Commission, Food Secured Schools Africa, Sustainable Youth Development as well as practicing farmers.

This consultation aligns with UNESCO commitment to ensuring a meaningful engagement of youth and their participation in knowledge generation to inform decision making on all matters and issues affecting them. This was a Pre-Tana youth consultation for the upcoming 10th Tana High-Level Forum on Security in Africa, to be held from 25 to 29 October 2021, in Bahir Dar in Ethiopia. The youth pre-consultation and the celebration of International Youth Day, mobilized young people from across Africa and engaged them on global challenges of food systems transformation in the context of climate change and exponential population growth.

The upcoming 10th Tana High-Level Forum on Security in Africa, under the theme “Managing Security Threats: Building Resilience for the Africa We Want”, offered a much suitable framework for meaningful youth engagement for peace and security, which further served as a stepping stone in the preparation to the Biennale of Luanda – “Pan-African Forum for the Culture of Peace”, from 4 to 8 October 2021.

This point was highlighted by Prof. Hubert Gijzen, in his opening remarks, recalling how food security has remained a global challenge, from the MDGs to the SDGs, mentioning in particular SDG 2, which aims at ‘zero hunger’.

Stressing on the complexity of food security, Prof. Hubert Gijzen affirmed that this is about local availability, affordability, nutritional value of food, but also about the way food is produced, and highlighted the imperative need of capitalizing on the youth’s voices, perspectives, innovative and creative thinking. “That is why we need the strong and meaningful engagement of you the youth. Not only because this is about your future, but also because young people are not hindered by blocked minds, which tend to lock us up in a status quo. And now Africa has one big advantage – it is the most youthful continent on this planet, with over 60% of its population being youth.”, said Prof. Gijzen.

He welcomed the Pre-Tana Youth Consultation as an important step in the right direction, and echoed in this regard the United Nations Secretary-General’s message for the International Youth Day 2021, when he said: “let us guarantee young people a seat at the table as we build a world based on inclusive, fair, and sustainable development for all”.

Ms. Lettie Longwe, the Interim Director of the Institute for Peace and Security Studies and Head of Tana Forum Secretariat also intervened in the opening session. She noted how issues of climate change and COVID-19 had affected the food systems, before urging for needed action to mitigate this situation, she reiterated the timeliness of this consultation placing the youth at the centre, to enhancing peace and security in Africa.

Dr. Janet Edeme, the Head of Division of Rural Economy and Agriculture at the African Union Commission contextualized the theme to the African context in her key note address, giving also a broad overview of frameworks set in place by the AUC. One such framework is the Malabo Declaration, which commits African countries to strive for ending hunger, decreasing poverty through inclusive agriculture growth and transformation, boosting intra-African trade in agricultural commodities and services, enhancing resilience to climate variability and other shocks, while ensuring a commitment to mutual accountability for actions and results.

The consultation provided youth stakeholders and partners a platform to present and reflect on the interconnectedness between food insecurity, youth and stability as well the dimensions of food security that are affected by climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, conflict and politics.

Mr. Eskender Mulugeta, Founder and Project Director of Food Secured Schools Africa in Ethiopia remarked, “I would like to become the first African billionaire thanks to my investments in agriculture”, when sharing about the school garden initiative he successfully developed in his country, Ethiopia, borrowing from similar experience in Uganda. He further called on young Africans to invest more in agriculture, which he believes is the key to Africa’s transformation.

Through this joint event, UNESCO and the Institute for Peace and Security Studies have strengthened their partnership, as this consultation provided an opportunity for sharing of information stemming from recent research and analysis on the theme of the forum, notably on effective youth engagement in innovative food security systems. Besides, a policy brief is foreseen as an expected outcome, to address the state of food security in Africa, while addressing also related socio-political factors aggravating the challenges in this area, including the impact of COVID-19 pandemic.

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