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Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health

Address by the President of the National Youth Council of Dominica August 12 was declared as International Youth Day in 1999 by the General Assembly based on the recommendation made by the World Conference of Ministers of Youth in Lisbon (8-12 August 1998).

For twenty-two years, this day has provided an opportunity to celebrate young peoples’ views and initiatives on a global scale. We understand that young people hold a crucial role in working towards the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and related frameworks locally, regionally, and internationally.

Today, we stand united with youth across our own country to raise awareness of the need to ensure the engagement and participation of youth, especially in these precarious times. During the 2021 ECOSOC Youth Forum (EYF) the issues and priorities highlighted by youth participants included their views on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic particularly related to its effect on human health, the environment, and food systems.

This year, Youth Day is celebrated around the theme “Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health”, with the aim of highlighting that the success of such a global effort will not be achieved without the meaningful participation of young people. More now than ever, youth need to make informed decisions on food choices especially within our region. With increased incidences of non-communicable diseases among younger cross-sections of our population, there is a need to increase national education on the healthiest and most sustainable options for both individuals and the environment.

For new results to be achieved, youth should be put at the center and prioritized in such discussions. Too often, we walk into rooms of stakeholders and only a handful can identify as a youth. Youth cannot be seen as recipients or targets only but as fundamental contributors and partners towards the identification of new and innovative solutions. Today, COVID-19 is adding to the strains on our food systems, disrupting markets and supply chains for small-scale farmers around the world.

Although the pandemic has evidenced resilience and innovation through the emergence of many small businesses in different sectors, youth participation in the health response to COVID-19 has not been as successful. We are disappointed in the response by some of the youth in their disregard to the warnings about contagion for social distancing, mask protocols among other COID-19 guidelines and recommendations.

Young people are not a homogenous group; we do not all think alike and the rationale for the action of inaction is divergent. Importantly, the capacity to understand things from another person’s perspective develops slowly over time, especially in an era where so much information from multiple media streams is available. The NYCD has embarked on a campaign to launch reliable, credible information through its platform to better inform youth of the COVID-19 guidelines, recommendations, and information. We invite youth to stay updated with the information but more importantly to follow the protocols, which have been implemented.

While we encourage compliance it is also necessary for enforcement to accompany the protocols, many young people have a long history of not being held accountable for their behavior. We implore the necessary interventions to be put in place. The NYCD also aims to work with policymakers to detail a youth-driven resiliency framework for recovery from COVID-19 and disasters.

Although we celebrate Youth Day internationally today, youth are celebrated every day. The mission of the NYCD is to continuously advocate for youth engagement, not just today but every day. The NYCD is currently endeavoring on multiple projects that focus on addressing some local youth challenges. Today, as we focus on health and our food systems let us remember “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”. Happy International Youth Day, change starts with us, let’s start today!