Today we celebrate International Youth Day, the theme this year is, “Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health”. Pacific youth play a critical role in food systems at all levels – from production through to their role as consumers.
This year we all must continue to act and scale up our efforts for more sustainable and just food systems, globally, and here in the Pacific region. The Pacific Community (SPC), in collaboration with our members and the United Nations, facilitated a Regional Dialogue on sustainable food systems, as part of a global participatory process contributing to the UN Food Systems Summit to be held in September 2021. This regional convening complemented national preparations and dialogues held throughout the region. This was an opportunity for young people to inform and shape the Pacific narrative on food systems in our unique region.
In all discussions, one of the key issues highlighted has been the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly related to its effect on human health, the environment, and food systems. The Pacific voice is loud and clear in its affirmation that we must collectively work for more equitable food systems, and that young people need to be able to make informed decisions about their food choices through increased education on healthy foods and lifestyles as well as the environmental impacts of food systems. Food systems are much more than the basics of getting food from the land, waterways and sea to the table. In 2011, Pacific leaders declared “a human, social and economic crisis”, due to the significant and growing burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the region and the cost to families, health systems, and national economies in Pacific island countries is high and unsustainable. Nutrition-related chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some forms of cancer are major contributors to the global burden of NCDs. There is an urgent need to transform our food systems, and our young people are not only the agents of change but our ambassadors to transforming a Pacific regional food system.
At SPC, we are collaborating with our member nations, designing a food system that is relevant and contextualised for our region. SPC is the custodian of the Pacific Youth Development Framework and we ensure that we engage with youth and that their voices are incorporated in all our work, including food security. Youth play an important role in advocating and campaigning for healthy diets and sustainable food production, and the protection of the ecosystems that underpin food systems - land and ocean.
The Pacific contains over half the world’s tuna resources, which is sustainably managed using cutting edge science and strong regional governance. The income and food from this shared resource is critical for the economies, well-being and security of Pacific countries and territories. Many Pacific people including youth are deeply involved and reliant on subsistence and commercial farming and fishing, as well as in the food and culinary industry. Pacific cultures and food are inseparable, and we have seen how traditional food systems have helped island communities cope with multiple shocks of both the climate crisis and COVID-19 as you have witnessed in our cultural practices of sharing and reciprocity.
Climate change and disasters continue to present complex and multifaceted threats to Pacific people and their food systems. Being so isolated from markets, we face unique challenges in realising equitable benefits in the global food system and are heavily dependent on imports. These present multiple and complex consequences for the health and livelihoods of our Pacific youth. In response to these challenges, Pacific youth are actively participating at regional conversations and bringing innovative platforms and technologies to the table to disseminate information to drive behaviour change to build a resilient and strong region.
Through our work on the 2050 Development Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent, led by the Pacific Islands Forum (PIFs), the Pacific Community ensures that the role youth play in food security, COVID-19 recovery, NCD reduction, maintaining tuna resources and strengthening the Pacific’s resilience (or Pacific resilience) in the face of disasters is reflected and prioritised.
As the Pacific’s own scientific and technical organisation, SPC brings research and expertise in multiple areas related to food production, consumption, trade, and policy. Our work spans 22 Pacific island countries and territories, and we are proud to offer our support in ensuring that our young people are included across all sectors of development.
Today, I want to acknowledge the ongoing, important contributions of our young people of the Pacific region and wish them a happy International Youth Day.