The World Food Forum 2024: Good food for all, for today and tomorrow.

WFF at the STI Forum 2024 - Youth-led Innovation: Ensuring good food for all, for today and tomorrow

WFF at the STI Forum 2024 - Youth-led Innovation: Ensuring good food for all, for today and tomorrow

This week, the World Food Forum (WFF) joined the 9th United Nations Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals (STI Forum) in New York, to advocate for the support of youth-led innovation for sustainable agrifood systems transformation. The WFF gathered current and former UN leaders, the ECOSOC Ambassador for the Kingdom of the Netherlands, young innovators from the WFF’s Transformative Research Challenge (TRC), Startup Innovation Awards (SIA)- powered by Extreme Tech Challenge (XTC), and Youth Food Lab incubator, as well as the WFF Young Scientists Group (YSG), in an intergenerational dialogue on the importance of investing in youth in STI.

The event kicked off with a keynote opening speech on the critical role that youth must play in leading innovation to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) presented by Carol Bellamy, former Chair of the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund (GCERF). She said that to address challenges faced by society “We need to unleash the younger generation to challenge the status quo (...) clear the way for them and get out of [their way]”. The next section of the event was dedicated to showcasing concrete youth-led solutions. One of last year's winners of the TRC, Nancy Nswal, and a participant of the 2023 Youth Food Lab cohort, Bibek Shrestha, shared their experiences and how the WFF Innovation Lab has supported and increased the impact of their projects.

Following these presentations, the WFF launched the fourth edition of the SIA. The Awards were presented by Nancy Yuan, Strategic Program Manager of Extreme Tech Challenge. The SIA aims to support and showcase innovators and entrepreneurs who are harnessing the power of technology to drive the sustainable transformation of agrifood systems in support of ending global hunger and achieving the SDGs. For this year's edition, Ms. Yuan announced the four award categories: Digital Innovation in Food Processing, Empowering Women in Agrifood Systems, Food Loss and ‘Good Food for All, for Today and Tomorrow’ (the theme of this year’s WFF). Buffy Okeke-Ojiudu, a past winner of the SIA’s both Better Production Award and the Innovation of the Year Award presented his startup, Zebra CropBank, his creation journey and how winning the SIA had provided "jet fuel" to expedite their growth. The project is a post-harvest service platform for farmers in Africa to store, manage and monetize their crops. Adnan Šerić, Head of Innovation Lab at the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) concluded the section by presenting the Food Loss Award and announced the launch of the WFF-UNIDO Joint Startup Accelerator Programme.

During the next part of the event, Margaret Hegwood and Tarini Gupta of the WFF's YSG engaged in a discussion on “the Role of Young Scientists in Transforming Agrifood Systems Amid Multiple Crises”. Margaret pointed out, that “young scientists want not only to be heard and invited, but also taken seriously in order to ensure meaningful engagement of young scientists and the importance of evidence-based decision making”. Further, they introduced the upcoming YSG report, which will be launched at the WFF flagship event in October and will cover the use of technology for multidimensional engagement of youth in food systems transformation. The report aims to examine how stakeholders can leverage technology to include youth in decision-making tables for meaningful engagement, as well as explore more traditional technological advancements to make farming systems more efficient and resilient to different climate threats.

The event concluded with an address by the Kingdom of the Netherlands’ ECOSOC Ambassador, Katja Lasseur, where she highlighted the on-going commitment of the Netherlands to meaningful youth participation on all fronts, saying “youth can serve as an inspiration and be an agent for change when it comes to transforming our agrifood systems''. The Ambassador was followed by closing remarks from FAO’s Office of Innovation Director, Vincent Martin, who emphasized on the importance of an intergenerational conversation to accelerate what youth are now doing and not repeating the same mistakes as well as placing innovation and technology as the core of FAO's strategic framework, science and innovation strategy to mainstream innovation across the organization.

If you are a young researcher or startup innovator don't hesitate to apply to the Transformative Research Challenge (TRC) or the Startup Innovation Awards (SIA)!