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WFF at the STI Forum 2023 - Youth Innovation: Bolstering Climate Action Through Agri-Food Systems Transformation in the Context of COVID-19 Recovery

WFF at the STI Forum 2023 - Youth Innovation: Bolstering Climate Action Through Agri-Food Systems Transformation in the Context of COVID-19 Recovery

This past week, the World Food Forum (WFF) joined the 8th Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the SDGs (STI Forum) to advocate for support of youth innovation for agrifood systems transformation.

As a core part of the participation, on 2 May the WFF gathered senior leaders from FAO, along with the winners of the WFF’s Transformative Research Challenge (TRC) and Startup Innovation Awards powered by Extreme Tech Challenge (XTC), and members of the WFF Young Scientists Group (YSG) and of the newly launched Youth Food Lab (YFL) incubator, in an intergenerational dialogue highlighting the importance of engaging global youth in science, technology and innovation.

Among the Young Scientists Group's findings on the main drivers of transforming agrifood systems, Dinesh Panday, member of the first WFF YSG, pointed out, "We found that young people from diverse groups globally - especially rural and indigenous youth and young women - can play a crucial role in driving sustainable and resilient food systems.” Among the challenges identified in the YSG report, there is the lack or limitation of resources such as land, finance and human resources, and youth are being deprived from these resources.

The side event, which took place at the UN headquarters in New York, with a second in-person component at the FAO headquarters in Rome, included one and a half hours of interactive sessions covering diverse topics. The first part of the event started with a keynote speech addressing the scientific approach to youth action in agrifood systems, presented by FAO Chief Economist, Máximo Torero, joining from Rome. In his words, “Whenever there is a crisis, there is opportunity, and we have an opportunity here to make a difference through new ideas and innovation (…) Science, technology and innovation are at the heart of everything we try to do at the World Food Forum.” The first session concluded with the launch of the Young Scientists Group's second cohort.

During the second part of the event, which included discussions around youth-led solutions in transforming agrifood systems, the WFF team launched the third edition of the Transformative Research Challenge (TRC) for researchers and innovators who are aiming to create a better food future. Speakers were invited into a panel discussion to present innovative solutions to accelerate agrifood systems transformation in the overall context of COVID-19 recovery, boost climate action and achieve the 2030 Agenda goals.

The Panellists and the topics of their contributions included:

  • Bolstering climate action through agrifood systems transformation in the context of COVID-19 recovery" with YFL participants, 2022 TRC winners, and TRC co-host of the Special Prize "Global One Health'';
  • Presentation of the Global One Health Prize "How to Prevent the Next Pandemic" by Joukje Siebenga, Programme Manager, Wageningen University & Research
  • The importance of research, innovation and the role of water in agrifood system transformation by Nafn Amdar, Research Officer, International Water Management Institute (IWMI), Jordan
  •  Household food waste reduction project in Indonesia, which was launched during the COVID-19 pandemic, and its impact on climate action by Davrina Rianda, “Mama4Planet” team of the YFL Incubator

Moving to the last section of this hybrid event, the WFF launched the WFF Startup Innovation Awards, powered by the Extreme Tech Challenge (XTC). The Startup Innovation Awards (SIA) was presented by Victoria Slivkoff, Executive Managing Director of XTC. The SIA aims to elevate the next generation of entrepreneurs who are creating new technologies and innovations to benefit our planet and the agrifood systems we need to thrive. Mihir Pershad, past winner of the SIA’s Better Production category and CEO and Founder of Umami Meats, shared his successful experience in running his startup on cultivated sustainable seafood that shows great potential in transforming our agrifood systems.

The last section of the event concluded with the address by FAO Chief Scientist Ismahane Elouafi who commented, ”Young people are very important, because they are mostly a sign of hope, a sign of change as well (…) We'll only be able to transform our agrifood systems with the components I've heard today from our young winners be it on the water management side, on the food waste and loss side, increasing productivity, increasing nutrition, caring for the environment and having a better income for our producers and farmers. We can’t do this unless we take on technology and innovation.”

Concluding the event, Máximo Torero, FAO Chief Economist and Chair of the FAO Youth Committee, shared his closing reflections on the event and a call for action addressing young people: "Given the challenges we have, we have to be as effective as possible. We have to spend time identifying the problems we want to solve - don't jump into it. Think carefully about what there is to solve, and what there is already. What is new that we can bring up to solve the problem?"

Throughout the remainder of the STI Forum, the WFF team supported youth to share their voice in the core sessions of the event, including WFF Young Scientist Shulang Fei, who spoke on her research in China during the thematic session, “Think global, act local - people-led innovation and tech infrastructures in cities”. Further, the WFF team and young innovators from groups including the Major Group for Children and Youth and the Office of the Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth, were hosted by FAO’s Liaison Office in New York for an inspiring informal dialogue with the FAO Chief Scientist as she gave words of advice, and invited the young leaders to the World Food Forum and FAO Science and Innovation Forum flagship event in October 2023. The WFF’s work to promote youth led innovation and initiatives for agrifood systems transformation will continue to move forward in the lead up to the flagship event.