ROME — Young people across the world will need to step forward if global agri-food systems are to become more sustainable and the world is to fully recover from COVID-19. That was the message delivered at a July 14 side event of the 2021 UN High-Level Political Forum (HLPF).

“The future of food belongs to the young people of today,” said Qu Dongyu, director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

The HLPF side event on youth and agri-food systems transformation provided young people with the opportunity to propose and showcase their ideas and ongoing actions for making agri-food systems more sustainable and building back from COVID-19 in a dialogue with governments, youth groups and other stakeholders.

The event was organized with the World Food Forum (WFF), a youth-led movement and network of partners launched by the Youth Committee of FAO. The WFF launched in March 2021, and its goal is to spark a youth movement to transform global agri-food systems and achieve several sustainable development goals, including zero hunger, no poverty, reduced inequalities and climate action. The WFF has been gathering ideas and actions for youth-led and youth-centered agri-food systems transformation through events like the HLPF side event. The group said it plans to present its ideas to the UN Food Systems Pre-summit in Rome at the end of July, followed by a week-long celebration of youth-driven, sustainable solutions and innovative approaches for a better food future, taking place Oct. 1-6.

“The complexity of our agri-food systems requires a coordinated, multi-sectoral and inter-generational approach,” Mr. Dongyu said.

“We need to create an open and meaningful space for youth engagement, participation and leadership,” he said, adding that “today’s side event is an important milestone on this path.”

In addition to Mr. Dongyu, other speakers at the event included Fabiana Dadone, Italy’s Minister for Youth Policies, who encouraged the building of dialogues with young people based on trust and the recognition of the value of their contributions, and Shamma bint Suhail Faris Al Mazrui, Minister of State for Youth Affairs of the United Arab Emirates, who highlighted the need to turn good strategy into action and put young people at the heart of it. Jayathma Wickramanayake, the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, also participated, noting the importance of investing in young people and placing them in the center of global systems.

The event also included a panel session featuring young people from across the world to discuss agri-food systems transformation.

“We believe that young people can and must make an important contribution, as protagonists of the future we are building today,” said Alberta Pelino, chair of Y20 and president of the Young Ambassadors Society (Italy). “Their voices can represent a breaking point with the past for a more sustainable future.”