1 October 2021, Rome – Pope Francis spoke to youth leaders on the opening day of the World Food Forum, a global movement that seeks to harnesses the energy and creativity of young people to shape a better future for our food.
The World Food Forum brings together youth from a broad range of backgrounds and expertise with the aim of spurring action to help transform agri-food systems and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially SDG 2 (“No hunger”).
The live-streamed opening ceremony in Rome saw opening remarks delivered by the president of Costa Rica, followed by a special address from Pope Francis. Queen Letizia of Spain, who is a Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Special Goodwill Ambassador for Nutrition, was also among the dignitaries who spoke to an audience of young farmers, youth leaders, entrepreneurs, influencers and celebrities. The opening event also featured an indigenous spiritual leader from Columbia, US Youth Poet Laureate Meera Dasgupta, young artists and musicians like AY Young, who has used his popularity to raise awareness about sustainability and raise money to bring people electricity.
“More than half of the world’s population is young people aged less than 30 years. The present and the future belongs to them. To inherit a planet that survives, we need your commitment. You know where changes that can no longer be postponed need to be made. The future is yours. Grab it in your hands,” said Costa Rica President Carlos Alvarado Quesada, who at 41 is one of the youngest heads of state.
The Pope, in a message delivered on his behalf by the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, urged participants to remain fearless and determined in their efforts to transform wishes into “concrete and meaningful actions.” Queen Letizia said young people’s energy was crucial to transforming our food systems and underlined the importance of ensuring that they are placed “at the centre of decision-making processes.”
The African Union’s Commissioner for Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, Sarah Anyang Agbor, expressed appreciation for the Forum’s ambition to serve as “a premier platform to harness the passion and innovation of young people and identify solutions to create a better food future for all.”
The virtual gathering is the first follow-up to the United Nations Food Systems Summit, which was held in New York just over a week ago. The summit, which ended with the slogan “From New York back to Rome,” tasked FAO, along with the other Rome-based UN agencies, with ensuring the success of ambitious and urgent efforts designed to make the world’s agri-food systems more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable.
The five-day flagship event ends on Tuesday with a Youth Action Assembly tasked with coming up with practical advice to governments and key stakeholders.
“We are here to find solutions and ways to build back better for the future. We cannot go forward with the old thinking patterns and behaviours. We must innovate outside of the box,” FAO Director-General QU Dongyu said.
A better food future
The World Food Forum was conceived by the Youth Committee of the FAO. Working with youth networks at the other Rome-based UN food agencies, the Forum is aligned with the core principles of the Food Systems Summit. The aim is to listen to young voices and empower the younger generations to help forge a future of better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life for all.
The Forum is based on the realization that while the younger generations have the most at stake, they also offer the kind of creativity, inventiveness and resilience needed to overcome the challenges. And there’s never been a better time to tap into such potential: today there are 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24 – the highest number in history.
“Never before has there been such a singular opportunity for leveraging the passion and energy of youth for a better food future. And the World Food Forum is harnessing that energy,” Qu said.
The World Food Forum isn’t just using innovative ways to discover and scale up young people’s most promising ideas, it is also providing young talents with tools and resources.
The Transformative Research Challenge, for example, has made mentors available to young researchers to help them translate their ideas into top-notch research papers, grant proposals and policy suggestions. The Startup Innovation Awards has been connecting entrepreneurs with leaders in the investment, technology and policy communities. Masterclasses have offered lessons such as The Success Mindset, Food Systems and Nutrition Education, and Blockchain 101.
Friday’s opening ceremony ended with FAO and the Government of Switzerland announcing the winners of the second edition of the International Innovation Award for Sustainable Food Systems. More than 400 nominations from 83 countries were submitted.