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TRANSFORMING FOOD SYSTEMS: YOUTH INNOVATION FOR HUMAN AND PLANETARY HEALTH

BY

AMB. ENGR (DR) MRS FUNMILAYO WAHEED- ADEKOJO, FNSE, FNIMECHE, FIMS (UK), FIMC, FCP, CMC, PMI Global, PMP CERTIFIED, CPO

THE MANAGING DIRECTOR AND CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER OF FUNMI AYINKE NIGERIA LIMITED, FUNMIAYINKE HUMANITY FOUNDATION, FUNMIYINKE RECORD LABEL

TO MARK INTERNATIONAL YOUTH DAY 

ON THE 19TH OF AUGUST, 2021 

AT THE NAF CONFERENCE CENTER, ABUJA

PROTOCOL

The Chairperson of this occasion;

All Important Dignitaries;

All Invited Guests;

Gentlemen of the Press;

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen!

 

INTRODUCTION

For multiple reasons, youth is an important demographic in development. First and foremost, today’s youth generation is the largest in history. From a development perspective, today’s youth generation is on the front line: it will have to cope with the effects of environmental and climate change, which are likely to accelerate and intensify during their lifetimes and those of their children. The unfolding life histories of this generation and their offspring will both track and strongly influence the evolution of economic, social and political developments over the coming decades. Their lives will reflect humanity’s success or failure in moving towards more ecologically sustainable and socially equitable development. 

Our aim is to understand better how development researchers and policy makers might address dimensions and direction of policy and practice relating to food systems that are specific to youth, or that may affect youth in particular ways. We are interested in youth as stakeholders in food systems and as potential agents of change.

How do young people engage with food systems? What are the implications of their variety of patterns of engagement for young people themselves, for their families and dependents, for their communities and societies, for food systems and for sustainable development?

The ways food is currently produced, processed, distributed, consumed and wasted are widely recognized as unsustainable from both ecological and social perspectives. Inequity and injustice are endemic in the ways costs, risks and rewards are generated and distributed within and by food systems and there are many examples of environmental unsustainability in agriculture. Food policy and food systems analysts have called for a thorough transformation of food systems, to support improved food and nutritional security, equity, socio-economic justice, ecological sustainability within “planetary boundaries” and other sustainable development objectives.

WHAT IS FOOD SYSTEM?

Food systems encompass all the ways in which food is produced, distributed and consumed. However, a food system perspective encompasses much more than the pathways from “field to fork” or “farm to plate.” It also embraces activities upstream of farms such as research, plant breeding and the supply of agricultural inputs, downstream of consumers including the disposal of waste and recirculation of nutrients.

A food system is systemic in an emergent rather than a planned sense. It is the product of historically rooted, dynamic, cross –scale interactions among many processes and actors. Food systems are structured by relations of capital and trade, networks of social and legal contracts and flows of knowledge, nutrients, commodities and money across short and long distances.

It is possible to talk of a single global system that comprises and interacts with a multitude of nested, interacting, regional and local food systems. However, a purely scalar conception of food systems is potentially misleading since, in a certain, concrete sense, every person’s experience of food is immediate, personal and local while simultaneously connected to networks, processes and flows across much larger temporal and spatial scales.  Food systems account for a very wide scope of human activity, constituting a major source of employment and livelihoods, a major user of environmental resources, a source of pollution and ecological degradation, and a driver of global warming that will also be increasingly affected by climate change in the coming decades. There is a variety of ways to represent food schematically, decomposing them into their constituent parts and relationships. Some analysts have distinguished conceptually and analytically between the drivers, components and outcomes of food systems. Drivers include biophysical and environmental factors, technologies and infrastructures, political and economic factors, socio- cultural norms and practices, demographic change like population growth, migration and urbanization. Food systems components comprise the productive, reproductive and economic activities and functions that produce process and distribute food. The outcomes of food systems are mediated by “food environments” that influence consumer choices and behaviors, individually and in groups. Outcomes include effects on the nutrition, health and well-being of food consumers and an array of social, economic and political effects as well as environmental impacts such as wastage and pollution.

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ENGAGEMENT WITH FOOD SYSTEMS

Individuals may engage in a variety of ways with the multifarious activities and functions involved in food production, processing, marketing, distribution, consumption and waste management. While everybody necessarily engages through consumption, some people may be involved, at different times, in any of a wide range of other food-related activities, which can be undertaken in domestic, institutional, small enterprise or industrial settings. These include producing and supplying agricultural inputs, manufacturing and packaging of food products. Other ways of engaging in food systems are also linked to a variety of objectives such as supporting a livelihood, earning an income, occupying a professional role or identity, achieving a social status and fulfilling domestic commitments and social roles that involve taking care of one and others.

IS THERE ANYTHING SPECIAL ABOUTH YOUTH ENGAGEMENT WITH FOOD SYSTEMS?

The generational perspective suggests that whatever is peculiar to “youthhood” is expressed and refracted through the historical specificity of each new generation of youth, and its particular relationships to older and younger generations. The specific ways in which a person engages with food systems are influenced by the intersection of their phase of life with many other factors such as their gender, marital status, culture, class, location, health and so on. For example, a young woman who cultivates a kitchen garden or purchases food on the market on behalf of herself and other household members carries a responsibility for the household in relation to food and nutrition. However, her influence and autonomy will be different from a young man who for example, manages the family farm, controls some cash that he earns from a job and purchases his own meals and snacks outside the home.

The youth phase of a life course usually entails lifestyle changes of various kinds which may have consequences for each person’s food environment, food habits, diets and energy needs. Socially, culturally and psychologically, youth is regarded as a period when changes in lifestyle and food habits can be influenced in positive or negative directions. Sites such as schools, gyms and workplaces may exert an influence over young people’s food choices, whether through providing food or exposing the young people to guidance on nutrition and healthy eating. Participating in activities and employment away from home will also expose young people to positive and negative influences via peer pressure and other social and cultural signals.

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BIOPHYSICAL DIMENSIONS

Biophysical objectives and interests that are linked to food systems include basic food and nutrition security as well as the energetic and health effects that are associated with eating particular types of foods and diets. As food consumers, people have interests in food safety (e.g. chemical composition and contamination of foodstuffs, toxicity, etc.) and nutritional quality is motivated by the sensory properties of foods, such as their flavors, aromas, etc.  The public at large are directly and indirectly affected by the impacts of agrifood systems on the natural environment and ecosystem services such as air and water quality and safety.

Youth needs adequate energy and good nutrition during a formative phase of the life course. Youth is a period of transformative physical, psychological and cognitive development for which good nutrition is essential. During puberty, each person’s gains about 40-50 per cent of their adult weight and 15-20 per cent of their adult height. Changes in physical activity such as an increase in sedentary or physically demanding work may have consequences for energy metabolism. There is evidence that obesity and other diet – related health problems are increasing among today’s urban youth, and even rural youth in some places and a transition to diets rich in fats and sugars.

ECONOMIC DIMENSIONS

Many people engage in food systems for economic motives, such as generating an income or otherwise pursuing a livelihood (e.g. subsistence farming). Food producers and workers in food value chains may be concerned about issues of inequity and inequality in the distribution of costs, benefits and risks arising from food systems. The nature and dynamics of youth engagement in food system-related economic activities differs between rural and urban areas and between male and female youth. According to the 2019 Rural Development Report, the great majority of rural youth belong to households that are in transition form or have already moved out of farming. Nonetheless, there are still many young people in rural areas who do engage in some kind of agriculture or livestock production, even while they are in school, whether primarily for consumption or for sale, on their own account or working with or for others.

The economics of food markets have an important, structuring influence on consumption. Young people’s food choices and behaviors are shaped by the food environments in which they move. In some rural societies, women are more likely to be involved in producing food principally for domestic consumption though they may also cultivate and process some types of crops for sale. Men are more likely to be expected to engage in commercial production systems. Off-farm food system jobs may also be sorted according to gender, for example, in restaurants and food processing factories, some jobs are more likely to be occupied by men than by women, and vice versa.

CULTURAL DIMENSIONS

Food is important to people and social groups for symbolic and spiritual reasons, as a signifier of cultural status, identity and belonging and as a central feature of many traditional practices, rituals and celebrations. Ethnic, cultural and religious meanings, norms and values are attached to many foodstuffs, dishes, beverages and styles of food preparation, and to the places, occasions and peoples with which they are associated. These practices are sometimes understood as shorthand for a whole lifestyle and set of values. Food choices and dietary habits are intimately connected to a young person’s emerging sense of identity, cultural belonging and independence.

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Transitions such as marriage, leaving the family home and entering employment may expose young people to new expectations and norms in relation to food-related activities and consumptions.

SOCIAL DIMENSIONS

Many social roles, relationships and statuses are expressed through food and engagement in food systems, such as professional and artisanal work (e.g. baker, butcher), reproductive roles (e.g. motherhood, breadwinner). For most people, home is where food consumptions habits are formed. The influence of family and home continues during youth, but it also changes in character and intensity. Younger members of a household typically take on increasing responsibilities for domestic work and tasks associated with care and social reproduction around the home. These would generally include helping to procure food items, serve meals, feed infants and many more.

Marriage and parenthood will endow youth with new domestic relations and caring responsibilities. Relocation to join a spouse’s household could also entail changes in dietary habits and practices to accommodate the habits, preferences and routines of the spouse family.

CONCLUSION

Young men and women have specific nutritional needs during puberty, which is especially important if they have had the disadvantage of poor nutrition during the early years of childhood. It is also the case that most youth, simply because they are young, will engage and interact with food systems from a position of less experience, knowledge and skill than an adult, and in most cases a less powerful position. It follows that there justification for referring youth as potential agents of change that could or will play the central role in driving food system transformation towards greater sustainability. Youth are likely to lack productive resources such as land and capital or an influential voice in political arenas. 

Finally, we recommend a cautious and circumspect attitude towards youth as potential agents of change. In general, young people may be more open than older generations to embracing new ways of doing things but this may be due to structural causes such as lack of prior commitment to existing activities and practices or a shared rejection of a dismal economic and environmental inheritance. All social groups, including youth and others are likely to need support to overcome structural obstacles, access resources, acquire skills, build confidence and feel empowered to create, build and pursue new sustainable and productive livelihoods including new ways to produce, process, distribute and consume food.

Thank You All for Your Rapt Attention

Bibliography

Allen, A, Howard J., Kondo, M., Jamison, A., Jayne, T., Snyder, J., Tschirley, D and Yeboah, K. F. (2016). Agrifood Youth employment and engagement study. 

Anyidoho, N.A., Leavy, J., and Asenso – Okyere, K (2017). Perceptions and aspirations: a case study of young people in Ghana’s Cocoa sector.

Allen, T., Heinrigs, P., and Heo, I. (2018). Agriculture, food and jobs in West Africa, West African papers.

Anderson, M., and Leach, M. (2019). Transforming food systems: the potential of engaged political economy.

 

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