Theme: “Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health”
The theme of International Youth Day 2021 is, “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. It has been acknowledged that there is a need for inclusive support mechanisms that ensure youth continue to amplify efforts collectively and individually to restore the planet and protect life, while integrating biodiversity in the transformation of food systems.
With the world’s population expected to increase by 2 billion people in the next 30 years, it has become recognized by numerous stakeholders that simply producing a larger volume of healthier food more sustainably will not ensure human and planetary wellbeing. Other crucial challenges must also be addressed, such as the interlinkages embodied by the 2030 Agenda including poverty reduction; social inclusion; health care; biodiversity conservation; and climate change mitigation.
Food systems include not only the basic elements of how we get food from farms to the table, but also all of the processes and infrastructure involved in feeding a population, and the negative externalities that can be generated during the process, such as air and ocean pollution as well as desertification. There is also the risk of zoonotic diseases that can result from unsustainable farming practices and the climate crisis. Population health is also key in addressing food systems challenges, especially as nutrition-related chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some forms of cancer are major contributors to the global burden of disease.
In the Pacific
As the PICTs place increasing emphasis on agricultural exports, food security becomes a real concern for the region, particularly in countries where the traditional staple diet consists of root crops. This leads to unbalanced diets, with minimal consumption of vegetables and fruits and a high intake of processed foods and sugary drinks, leading to unhealthy, overweight and obese populations. The State of Pacific Youth Report 2017 (SOPY 2017) noted obesity and overweight as an increasingly common and serious problem amongst youth, with a prevalence of 50% in some PICTs. This represents a very significant public health crisis for the Pacific region.
The economic, social and psycho-social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change have far-reaching implications for Pacific economies, families and communities. The crisis has already further marginalised young people, particularly young women and youth with different sexual identities, through the resulting loss of jobs, especially in tourist industries, such as hospitality, retail, recreation, catering, entertainment, and shipping and transport. It has also affected those dependent on semi-subsistence agriculture for their livelihoods and survival. In places like Fiji that depend on the tourism sector, the drastic and unprecedented impacts of the pandemic and climate change have led to widespread termination of employment which has led to hunger and health related challenges.
On the other hand, as noted by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education and Youth in Tuvalu Dr. Tufoua Panapa, the COVID-19 pandemic has taught Pacific governments and youth the importance of returning to the land and the sea for survival. It has further demonstrated the need to maintain focus on the development of the agriculture and fisheries sectors, including identifying other sources of local and sustainable livelihoods to support the wellbeing of families and communities. This is a great opportunity for the region to develop a robust, sustainable, youth-centred and Pacific-oriented food security system which will have long lasting health benefits for the Pacific region.
The Pacific Community has been developing an “Integrated Food and Health System” to respond to some of the health challenges its member countries are facing. This initiative is led by the Land Resources Division (LRD) in close collaboration with the Strategy, Planning and Learning Team (SPL) and the Public Health Division (PHD) of the Pacific Community. The Pacific Community in the design of its Integrated Food and Health System is mindful of the fact that a successful and a robust food system includes all the vulnerable and minority groups including young people in all its diversities. HRSD as the youth technical lead within the Pacific Community is using this International Youth Day 2021 to gather perspectives of Pacific Islands youths on how they can contribute to creating a robust and successful Pacific Food System.
The poetry competition provides a platform for PICTs youth to share their views on the importance for a regional technical and scientific organisation like the Pacific Community (SPC) to engage young people in the development and designing a programme such as a food system. It is an opportunity for the young people to showcase their creativity and capabilities that will transform this Food and Integrated Health system that SPC is discussing at the moment. It is very important to take our young generation along in whatever we do.