By Linda Asaba
“In youth we learn, in age we understand”, Marie Von Ebner-Eschenbach
Every year, 12th August is put aside as a day to celebrate and highlight the importance and contribution of the young people towards the development agenda. This year the Theme of International Youth Day 2021 is “Transforming food systems: Youth for Innovation for human and planetary health “.
To start with let us understand the term food system; this refers to all the activities along the food chain, from production, to processing, to transportation and consumption of the food. The interesting bit is that the food system touches every aspect of the human life and existence. For instance, if we have a healthy food system, we will have healthy bodies, healthy environment, healthy economies and healthy cultures. Once the food system functions well it has a positive impact on everything including our families and our relationships.
This then leads us to the question of why should we make Agriculture and the all the activities in the food system appealing to the youth? Remember Uganda has one of the youngest populations with more than 77% of the population being youth. This means that once we have the youth involved and interested in the activities along the food system, we will surely make a meaningful contribution towards ensuring that the food system is improved. Engaging the youth and encouraging them to participate in the different activities along the food system will indeed improve our economics and health in the long run. The youth have passion and zeal once they believe in a given cause.
As we wait for the policies and interventions from the government and the global partners, the starting point is for us especially the young people to change our actions and perceptions. Our mentality as youth needs to change so that we are able to embrace the policies that will be put in place as well as demand for better policies to ensure the food system is improved. Keeping in mind that a healthy food system means a healthy environment and a healthy economy which surely result into healthy bodies, minds, and families.
For instance, let us look at the activity of consumption on the food system; youth are the majority consumers of the food produced and what we as youth prefer to consume directly affects the production activity and in turn affects the food system. Yeah, I know you are wondering how?? Remember consumption is one of the activities in the food system and part of the food chain. One of the greatest challenges facing youths today is discerning what to eat and when to eat it. This is affected by both the mentality and also the resources that one has at their disposal to spend on food.
Very few young people even those with knowledge on the need to feed healthy will choose organic food (Posho, matooke, beans, yams etc.) over junk (Pizza, chips among others). From the few interactions I have had with my fellow youths, I have realized that the appreciation of organic food is still very low as many youths still associate junk food with being at the top of their social circles and makes you look rich not knowing that you are actually causing harm to your body and the food system in the long run. Many of the young people think that engaging in agriculture is for those that have not gone to school and it dirty not allowing them to slay.
As we commemorate the youth day and the youth Month, let us work on ensuring that the many policies that are in place are understood by all especially the youth and also encouraging the youth to engage in innovations as well as taking on roles in the different activities on the food chain.
How best can we make this process of the food system attractive to the youth??, this is a question that is probably running through your mind as you read this. Yes, several suggestions have been put forward and many are yet to come through. For starters ,we need to look at youth as transitional phase with in the course of life, we also have to keep in mind that every person‘s youth transition should be supported by healthy eating habits and their relationship with food system are very different and uniquely shaped by specific intersection with several factors such as class, gender, wealth, health, geographical setting among others. Not every one has the same needs or even resources to enable them make a contribution to the food system. We need to appreciate every contribution made by the different people at the different stages in the food system.
When we talk about the food system in most cases, we think it is the responsibility of the government or even people in powerful places that have the power to make a valuable contribution. Well just to let you know as a young person or youth we are one of the big contributors to the food system and we have the power to cause change. We have all the powers to ensure that the food system is appropriate and that it suites us.
Today, COVID-19 is adding to the strains on our food systems, disrupting markets and supply chains for small-scale farmers around the world, threatening peace and stability particularly among the most vulnerable and marginalized populations. Youth continue to state that we are facing a health crisis and climate crisis that demands urgent changes to our food systems; business-as-usual is not an option anymore. Therefore, a more holistic and inclusive framework is needed to address these complex issues through integrated approaches.
Young people play a major role in the different activities of the Food system and if we can have more youths participate in the different activities on the food chain will surely make a great contribution to the improvement of the food system and the Economies as well.
Just like Marie Von Ebner-Eschenbach said “In youth we learn, in age we understand”.
Leave no one behind, Youth for development,
Linda Asaba, the author is the Programs Manager at Uganda Health Communication Alliance (UHCA)