Pope Francis sent a message to youth leaders on the opening day of the World Food Forum, a global movement that seeks to harnesses the energy and creativity of young people to shape a better future for our food.
The World Food Forum brings together youth from a broad range of backgrounds and expertise with the aim of spurring action to help transform agri-food systems and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially SDG 2 ("No hunger").
The live-streamed opening ceremony in Rome saw opening remarks delivered by the president of Costa Rica, followed by a special message read on behalf of Pope Francis. Queen Letizia of Spain, who is a Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Special Goodwill Ambassador for Nutrition, was also among the dignitaries who spoke to an audience of young farmers, youth leaders, entrepreneurs, influencers and celebrities. The opening event also featured an indigenous spiritual leader from Columbia, US Youth Poet Laureate Meera Dasgupta, young artists and musicians like AY Young, who has used his popularity to raise awareness about sustainability and raise money to bring people electricity.
SOUNDBITE (Spanish) Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican’s Secretary of State: “I ask to the youth gathered in the World Food Forum to be bold and determined, I ask them to remain united and steadfast in their intentions. Not to be mean in their dreams, to fight for a better future and to transform these yearnings into concrete and meaningful actions.”
Queen Letizia said young people’s energy was crucial to transforming our food systems.
SOUNDBITE (Spanish) Her Majesty Queen Letizia of Spain: “Women, indigenous peoples, smallholder farmers must be at the centre of food systems’ decision-making processes.”
The virtual gathering is the first follow-up to the United Nations Food Systems Summit, which was held in New York just over a week ago. The summit, which ended with the slogan “From New York back to Rome,” tasked FAO, along with the other Rome-based UN agencies, with ensuring the success of ambitious and urgent efforts designed to make the world's agri-food systems more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable.
SOUNDBITE (English) Abdulla Shahid, President of the UN General Assembly: “I applaud this forum for gathering such a diverse area of partners. By drawing on their expertise and harnessing the energy and the innovative power of youth, I have no doubt that we can share a better food future.”
The five-day flagship event ends on Tuesday with a Youth Action Assembly tasked with coming up with practical advice to governments and key stakeholders.
SOUNDBITE (English) QU Dongyu, FAO Director-General: “We are here to find solutions and ways to build back better for the future. We cannot go forward with the old thinking patterns and behaviours. We must innovate outside of the box.”
The World Food Forum was conceived by the Youth Committee of the FAO. Working with youth networks at the other Rome-based UN food agencies, the Forum is aligned with the core principles of the Food Systems Summit. The aim is to listen to young voices and empower the younger generations to help forge a future of better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life for all.
The Forum is based on the realization that while the younger generations have the most at stake, they also offer the kind of creativity, inventiveness and resilience needed to overcome the challenges. And there’s never been a better time to tap into such potential: today there are 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24 – the highest number in history.
SOUNDBITE (English) QU Dongyu, FAO Director-General: “Never before has there been such a singular opportunity for leveraging the passion and energy of youth for a better food future. And the World Food Forum is harnessing that energy.”
The World Food Forum isn’t just using innovative ways to discover and scale up young people's most promising ideas, it is also providing young talents with tools and resources.
The Transformative Research Challenge, for example, has made mentors available to young researchers to help them translate their ideas into top-notch research papers, grant proposals and policy suggestions. The Startup Innovation Awards has been connecting entrepreneurs with leaders in the investment, technology and policy communities. Masterclasses have offered lessons such as The Success Mindset, Food Systems and Nutrition Education, and Blockchain 101.
SOUNDBITE (English) Lisanne van Oosterhoud, Entrepreneur, Sustainability Advocate and WFF Champion: “It’s time that we take real steps, that we are recognized and appreciated for what we already know, instead of creating barriers. Connecting the small pieces of the already present future into a bigger picture, as an example of how we do have the ability to redirect the system and use this as a starting point for future decisions. There is an explosion of initiatives and the momentum, I think, for change is now.”
Friday's opening ceremony ended with FAO and the Government of Switzerland announcing the winners of the second edition of the International Innovation Award for Sustainable Food Systems. More than 400 nominations from 83 countries were submitted.