Bite the Talk Ep 14 : Nothing about us without us

*Views and opinions expressed in this podcast are the speakers' own

Happy International Youth Day! 

According to the United Nations, we currently have the largest generation of young people in history. By sheer numbers alone, leaving young people out of important areas of development is not an option. It is vital that the huge network of young people are aware, equipped, empowered, and engaged, especially to address issues and areas that concern them including food and nutrition.

Sometimes we hear that young people are immature, that they don’t take responsibility and often people in positions of power don’t trust us enough to sit with them and share their decision-making powers with us.

Youth engagement has been a topic for quite sometime thus there is a need to discuss it in detail to really understand the rights young people have in food system sustainability.

The aim of this conversation is to understand better how government, business and other development actors engage young people and how they can help them pursue their responsibilities to ensure sustainability in food system.


Maame Ekua Manful: Hello, and welcome to GAIN Bite the Talk podcast!

Today we are celebrating International Youth Day with young people.
According to the United Nations, we currently have the largest generation of young people in history. By sharing alone , leaving young people out of important areas of development is not an option. It is vital that a huge network of young people are aware, equipped, empowered, and engaged, especially to address issues and areas that concern them, including food and nutrition.

Sometimes we hear that young people are immature. That they don't take responsibility. And often people in positions of power don't trust us enough to sit with them and share their decision making powers with us. Youth engagement has been a topic for quite some time, thus there is the need to discuss it in detail to really understand the rights young people have in food system sustainability.

The aim of this conversation is to understand better how government, business and other development actors engage young people and how they can help them pursue their responsibilities to ensure sustainability in the food system.

My name is Maame Ekua Manful and I am a member of GAIN’s Partnership Council, from the Thought For Food Foundation where I serve as a Regional Coordinator. I am so glad to host this chat today with Michelle and Sarim.
Michelle, would you like to introduce yourself? 

Michelle Seck: Yes. Thanks Maame. And hi everyone. My name is Michelle Seck, and I come from Koosa Balu, which is a coastal city from the island of Borneo from Malaysia. 
I am currently living in Brussels and I'm working for the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and working specifically at the World Food Forum, where we empower young people, for a better future. And there specifically, I work as the Youth Action Track Lead what we call the policy arm of the World Food Forum, trying to empower young people to take action and to be included in the policy spaces when it comes to talking about our future in food and  agriculture.
Thanks for having me here and very excited!

Maame: It is lovely to have you here today, Michelle. Sarim, would you like to introduce yourself? 

Sarim: Thanks Maame, sure. Hey guys, I am Sarim, I am the Act4Food Act4Change Youth Leader in Pakistan. I'm also the coordinator for the United Nations Conference on Development (UNCTAD) Youth action hub in Pakistan. I'm the co-founder of an agri-tech startup that is known as a Mundi where we are trying to revolutionize the livestock supply chain in Pakistan, through empowering small holder farmers and removing middlemen in the livestock supply chain.

Maame: Thank you for joining us! So, let's get straight into it. Is there a need for involving youth in food system sustainability and why?

Michelle: So yeah Maame, I think for sure the answer is very simple. It's a simple, yes. As you highlighted before in your introduction, young people are making up the largest demographic, yet we do not see this reflected in a lot of spaces, including the political one. I believe the figures that we're looking at is where ½ of the population is currently under the age of 30, yet for political representation, only 2.6% of parliamentarians around the world are under 30. And the average age of prime ministers is 62. 

So that's not even including looking at the figures of those who are female or indigenous. So, what this tells us is that our futures are currently not being co-created or co-written with us, the young people, and most likely do not reflect our needs.

So, I think I'll say when it comes to youth engagement, youth participation is very simple in, that, that we need to have, you know, our future policies and priorities representative of its people. In terms of demographic, which then includes age, gender, ethnicities, cultures, and backgrounds, so that our policies and legislations and our future are really aligned to what we need and what we will also inherit eventually.

Our current food system is really far from being sustainable at the moment and we cannot have the same people making the same choices over and over again. But now that there was momentum and pressure to transform and rethink our food systems, thanks to the UN Food Systems Summit last year I think that, there is finally a dialogue between different stakeholders and now I think it's a time that we can really shake it, shake things up as young people. 

Maame: Interesting points raised Michelle and over to you, Sarim.

Sarim: I definitely agree with Michelle and I would like to take the question from a market based perspective, from an economic perspective. Although, the majority of the world's population is young, when we look at the market model, we see that the most people that have purchasing power are from an older age bracket and that in the market model, when you're making a purchase, you're voting on the kinds of quotes and services that you want to be produced.

And when you see the market model, you see that a lot of older people make the majority of the market model. And, they have been making these decisions for a very long time that have led us to where we are at. Hence, I feel that all the market models cannot be changed instantly. We can change the regulatory model and hence on the regulatory lens, we need to have young people on board. 

We need to have young people at the tables so that we can have the right regulatory models so that we can control the market in a way that we are not destined for destruction.

One of the things that also comes up is that young people - although if you look at it from a historical perspective -  today's young generation is not going to be as well off as compared to the previous generations. So, our impact on the market will not be as great as the impact that our forefathers have had.

Hence, there's a greater need for regulatory framework so that we can control the market in the right way, so that we are not moving towards destruction. I feel from an economic perspective, there's a one hundred percent reason to get more young people on board, on the decision tables so that we can get the right regulatory framework in place.

Maame: Thank you, Sarim. Indeed. We need to have young people at a table to level the playground when it comes to policy spaces and also, you know, the economic aspect.
I believe our audiences would be keen to know more about how we can make food systems and its sustainability a reality. I'd like to hear from you, what do you believe are some of the targets for reaching sustainable food systems in the next few years? And how are you, or how do you think big decision makers should involve young people in these plans? 

Sarim: Thank you, Maame. One of the things that should be on the agenda of sustainable food systems is access and affordability and that is something that has been very apparent because of the Ukraine crisis. Access and affordability have gone down to a record level low, and that is something that's very dangerous because that has brought back a lot of work that has been done in that specific field.

So, in the future, we need to focus on access and affordability of food. While we also must learn lessons from the Ukraine crisis so that we are better prepared for any crisis that happens like this in the near future, so that we can make our food systems more secure. And the third thing that I would like to point out is that we need to look at the carbon footprint of food systems and we need to bring that down. When we talk about carbon footprint, it's always a very sensitive conversation because there's a lot of corporates that are now involved in the food systems that have a lot of interest, profitable interest in this specific sector. So, in the future, we need to work with private sector to actually bring down the carbon footprint of the food system.

And that's an overall footprint. That's not specific to production, to the supply chain, to farmer markets… We need to take the food systems as a whole, and we need to bring their carbon, the entire carbon footprint down. So, I feel these three things should be the future of sustainable food systems. 

  1. First is access and affordability.
  2. The second is that we need to make our food  systems future proof to any crisis. 
  3. And the third is that we need to bring down the carbon footprint of the entire food value chain. Adding onto the second point, we need to also plan for the climate emergencies that are gonna take place and how they're gonna affect food systems on a global level and that will also affect the access and affordability in the coming future. 

Maame: Thank you, Sarim. Future proof our food systems so that young people are not left behind and to Michelle, we'd love to hear your thoughts. 

Michelle: Yeah, thanks, Maame and thank you Sarim for that. And I totally agree on the point, that he has raised on the point of like food affordability and accessibility. It's been in the news recently, I think a lot more as well that, you know, food prices have gone up where in Malaysia, my mom is calling me, telling me that, you know, the prices of chicken has gone up 70 to 80%. The prices of fruit and vegetables has gone up 3%, two to three times more expensive because of the crisis that we are all seeing. And this really, you know, hurts our right to food, right to adequate nutrition and so on. I think this is one of the biggest things, that we have to look at is to make sure that people can have access to sustainable foods and ensuring the availability of it. 

In terms of your question of what are the, some of the targets that we can look at into reaching a sustainable food system? Again, I think it can be quite a simple one is that maybe for governments to commit to do what they have committed to. Whether it's in terms of respecting basic human rights, which is the right to free speech, the right to food, the right to a decent livelihood, fair working conditions.

And really turning their words into actions and also committing to creating the action that they have promised during the UN Food System Summit, through the national pathways and as young people, I think that we can really, you know, use this document to, to keep them accountable for the changes and the commitments that they have promised us.

To answer your second part of the question of like, how do you think big decision makers should involve young people in their plans? I think the first step is to just have that mutual respect of young people and also to see us more than just a young person, but also experts with our own perspectives and our own opinions so that we can really contribute to the table. Sit with us at the table, truly listen to us, truly hear us have a discussion with us because currently what we oftentimes see still is that we are being talked to and not talked with. So, I think this is one of the, you know, first steps let's say. And in terms of respect that I think also includes the respect of our time as well.

I know this is not a very popular thing to say, especially for financial retribution, but I think it's an important one to make is that most of the times young people are volunteering their time into taking parts in consultations. Consultations leading dialogues and so on, and that is simply not fair and like you said, it's not an equal playing field right now. Stakeholder groups that are voluntary, where young people are unpaid for, do not have the same rights and access to infrastructure, resources, and energy to participate in comparison to those who are around the table, who do have the financial stability. So those are some things, that I think big decision makers should do in the first steps of involving young people in the plans. 

I think also on your question of how are we, or how am I, or what role young people can play in involving young people is that, you know, for us now, who are in this space, with this privilege of being in this space, let's say, and to be able to speak on this, we really need to, you know, pave the way for more young people to enter this space: advocate for young people and youth rights when we can, in the spaces that we are involved in. And to really make sure also to ensure representation, in this sense as well, you know, take a look at, you know, your team in your office and so on. Is there a diverse group? Is there a diverse voice, diverse representation? This is something that I'm trying to work on very much and advocate a lot for, especially in the World Food Forum, to make sure that we have, you know, team members from all parts of the world participating not only also as interns and volunteers, but also as the people who are leading the different tracks and also the ones who are making decisions.
In short, that was my answer, back to you Maame. 

Sarim: So, I just had one more point to add to this. So, I just feel, so when we talk about government, we need to also talk about big corporations because they're gonna be the future of the market, and they're gonna be more part, they are more powerful than most countries also.

So, for example, big food companies like Coca Cola, Pepsi, or Nestle, they are big, bigger than the economies of some of the countries that are present in the world. So I think, when we are talking about holding countries accountable, we need to talk also about having a framework in place to actually make these big corporations - that are bigger than countries - to be accountable to do the things that they have actually told their stakeholders that they're gonna do.

And they're not doing that. And one of the things that we need to focus on is that we need to make these companies come out of their PR angle and actually take care of world that they're making money out of. 

Michelle: I totally agree Sarim, totally agree there. 

Maame: Great points raised by you all. I really admire how you both are talking about specific things that, you know, we can call onto the government, the private sector, and all other relevant stakeholders to really take into consideration when it comes to matters of the youth, such as mutual respect for young people and talking with us and not talking to us, leveling the playing field so that young people are well incentivized on the efforts they put in to create the future they want, and more importantly, diversity and inclusion. 

We envision a future where youth inclusivity in all areas is at its best. Now let's take a flip turn to understand the current state of youth involvement in a sustainable food system. 

To you, Michelle, what do you think is the current state of youth involvement in a sustainable food system? 

Michelle: Thanks Maame for the question. I think youth are already involved right? Through entrepreneurship, academics... I think some of the best projects and solutions have come from young people. And I think young people have shown us how to really take action to be really inspired from.

But because I'm not really from the aspect of like, you know, from the entrepreneurship side and stuff like that, I will leave this to Sarim, I think, but maybe for my side to talk on the policy level, whether it's governmental or even international governance, there is still a long way to go, actually for this.
So, on the policy level, when it comes to both local government, national government, and also international, there is still a long way to go.

Last month with the World Food Forum and Youth Action Team, we launched a survey, to develop our regional compendia, where we will find out and list out the youth priorities and their policy and solutions and actions they want to see to, you know, advise, our national partners.
Among one of the questions that we had on that survey was to identify how youth participation is looking in the different regions when it comes on the policy level, of course. So, we had a question there asking if they have been part of a policy consultation, what kind of level of forum was it?
And most of the answers was that it was to participate in a youth forum, or a youth discussion, a youth consultation to draft a youth policy paper and so on. What this tells me is that young people are still given a space at international conferences and so on although it is a separate room besides from where the real discussions and the real, decisions are being made. Following up on that, we also asked the question in the survey, that if they have been part of a consultation, you know, do they know where their outcomes went, or if their policy asked, has been taken up?

And actually, most of the answers were that they did not know where it was going. So here there's a lot of work still, when it comes to following up, especially on our side as young people as well. If we do not follow up on our policies, no one will do it for us unfortunately. So here is also a component, where we are still trying to map out and identify, you know, how are youth being consulted and, you know, how are their asks being taken seriously or taken up?

But also amongst the answers that we have from the youth survey, there were also successful case studies where, you know, where young people have shown where the consultation has led somewhere. While we often talk about, you know, how youth are not properly engaged, I think we also have to flip that script a bit and showcase more of the success stories of where, you know, they are being properly engaged with the national government or national local government.

And this can serve as the inspiration on what other countries can do. So, besides also countries, of course also, you know, organizations like the different UN agencies, academia and so on. I'm sure there are so many successful ways how young people are meaningfully engaged that we should learn from and actually maybe highlight this information instead of always looking at where the gaps are, where there is a lack of you participation. 

So maybe this is a point that we can also take up on ourselves to flip that script a bit as well, to talk more about best practices rather than challenges as well. 

Maame: Thank you, Michelle. It's great to hear some positive aspects and examples of how policy makers and governments are involved with youth. And I believe GAIN has set the pace also as well to have the first of its kind partnership with Act4Food Act4Change, and also to have a youth representative on their partnership council.
So, this is one example and I believe in academia, there are so many examples.
There are young people that are doing PhD programs and post-doc programs, and really want to pursue an idea that will make a change in our food systems. 
Now over to you, Sarim. Would you have anything to share regarding, I mean, the areas that you work in?

Sarim: Thank you so much Maama and Michelle, I agree with all of the things that you mentioned. To put it shortly: I think one of the things that stakeholders need to do is that they need to look at youth with engagement beyond tokenistic involvement, and actually recognize us as valuable stakeholders in the grand scheme of things and how we can actually create an impact for the future of our planet and the future of our systems.

And I think that's something that we've been able to do very well, with the Act4Food Act4Change campaign. But what we've also been able to do, is that we've had a consensus on a global agenda that are the Actions4Change. These were the Actions4Change that were agreed upon by youth groups, that this is something that we feel that should be the future of food systems.

And then that global agenda is now being transformed into local change throughout the world. And that is something that I feel is inspiring and optimistic for the food systems also that youth groups are coming together, actually recognizing what we want to. 

We want the future of food systems to be setting out an agenda and then that global agenda into a local localized agenda for each country, because we need to recognize that although these global agendas are good, we need to have local solutions on the canal that actually cater to the needs and the food systems that are very native to every part of the world.

So that is something that's very inspiring, and that is something that I'm very proud of to be a part of also. And so just, I'm moving on to another point also that is regarding entrepreneurship in that, in this specific sector. I think there's a lot of work that can be done in the specific sector, because when you look at young entrepreneurs, so entrepreneurship to put it simply is actually working on a solution that is self sustaining.
And we need more such solutions in the food systems. And if you want to push these solutions, we need to have more entrepreneurs that are working first to understand the problem, work to co-develop a solution, and then modernize our solution. So that it's self sustainable. And this is something that can revolutionize the food system.

But we have seen that. I feel that there is less attention being given to this specific sector. We need more young entrepreneurs and things that are lacking for the ecosystem right now is first of all access to capital. Young entrepreneurs that want to set up businesses in the food ecosystem do not have access to capital.
If they have access to capital they're at a very exploitative rate, hence not making it feasible for them to run the business. And the second is having access to good mentorship. So these are young people who have the right ideas, they just need those ideas to fit into the market that they want to build the business in.
And in order to do that, they need to have the right kind of mentorship and that is lacking. So we need to build that kind of support network for food entrepreneurs to actually scale their solutions and the third market linkages that I think some government are actually looking into it, but that's a huge space that still needs a lot of work to be done in that.

How do you develop market linkages for young food entrepreneurs so that they can scale their businesses in the right way? Because I feel that one of the things that can revolutionize and actually, build a counter market model to the present market model that we have; our food entrepreneurs, because they will not be operating in isolation of the market, they'll be a part of the market and they'll be building solutions that are best suited, for the incentives that are present to the market. 
So I think, we need more food entrepreneurs and we need to give more support to these food entrepreneurs also. 

Maame: Great points Sarim. I can relate with your entrepreneurial experience and the challenges. Prior to my PhD studies, I have been involved in creating lab products, products that we developed in the lab to solve Vitamin A deficiency syndrome and the path of moving the product from the lab to the people who really need it has been one that, you know, it's been interesting, but at the same time challenging.
I really would echo your point about, you know, creating an enabling environment, especially from government and not necessarily, you know, private investors because private investors, most of the time may not necessarily look at the impact because it's more of commercial and profits and, you know, ROI. And how much can you give me in five years? How much can you give me in two years? 

And you know, it's about having access to impact and patient capital so that young people will not necessarily feel like, okay, they have to work on the solution just for the sake of money, but because they feel the need to work at something that in turn for that they would be compensated fairly and, you know, incentivized to keep on making the impact.

That will lead us to our next question. I've had several colleagues that have actually left anything that has to do with food, because first of all, there are no well-paying jobs or, you know, even if they have an idea that they want to pursue, there is no funding or, you know, there is no buffer for them.

You are fresh out of school. You have a wonderful idea to really change the food systems, but there is no buffer, nothing at all. So, people will definitely, you know, live and go elsewhere. We really need to get young people back into the food systems. We need their energy, their innovation, their ability to, to know, to categorize and move things quickly.

Now I would like us to really share some of our thoughts on how can we mobilize young people who are outside this food systems bubble to get involved? How can we bring them back to the fold? How can we evangelize to these young people?

Sarim: So, so for me, I think, we need to have -  just cutting on from your point also Maame - to put it shortly, the right incentive system is not present and that's actually disincentivizing food entrepreneurs, it's actually disincentivizing people to be in the food space.
And if we want more youth groups to be involved in this specific space, we need to have the right kind of an incentive system. Because working in the field for the last four years, I know that the youth groups have the right passion to actually be involved in the food systems debate and actually revolutionize it.
The problem right now is that we do not have the right incentive system and following up from Michelle's point also that, so for example, if your youth groups are putting in their time, is there a compensation for the time that they're putting in? So, if they're arranging activities, do they have the needed capital to mobilize in the way that they want to?

And this is a very complex incentive system that we need to co-create for youth groups, so that they're better able to involve themselves in the overall debate. To sustain this momentum, we need to actually have the right incentive system, but we also have the need to have the right impact system.
So whatever activities that youth groups are doing to actually facilitate them to reach their impactful, journey point. That is something that is missing. So, for example, again going to Michelle's point regarding policy suggestions.

So if youth groups are in a policy consultation, they have drafted a policy, a youth policy framework, what happens with that policy framework? Is there a channel through which it has to reach decision makers? Do they see an impact of that specific policy document? And these are things that are very important for youth groups, because they've put in time, they've put in effort. If that effort is not materializing into impact, that's a very big demotivator for them.

So, we need to actually focus on these two things. First us having the right incentive system. And the second is that we need to actually have the right impact system for youth groups, so that whatever energy that they are investing into the program, we need to facilitate them to actually see some kind of impact in that specific sector also.

Youth groups are aware that it's always a long journey and they will feel demotivated at some point in time, but we need to actually have that system in place so that we can facilitate them and pick them up when they're feeling down. 

Maame: Great points, Sarim. So, Michelle, Sarim wants to find out where all these policy documents go to. I mean, in terms of the policy spaces, how can we get young people? I know policy spaces seem to really be exalted and you know, sort of put on pedestal. You have to have this and that before you can be a policy maker and the rest, but you are, you are a good example.
And so, tell us, I mean, from your experience, how can we get young people into the food systems when it comes to policy making. 

Michelle: Maybe first off, let me say, I'm still actually very new in this policy space. Policy and policy action has always been an interest for me and maybe someone coming from, you know, really a coastal city in a really little town, never thought that I would be in this position that I am right now in policy spaces.

So, I come in here in this space with a very naive idea. And what I realize in this policy spaces is that we have made it way more complicated than it has to be. Right? Because what is policy in the end is expressing what needs to happen to change something right. And in a very basic way of, saying it, and the policy space, I do have to say it is very daunting to enter and also very bureaucratic and also, not very attractive, I would say, to enter. You need the right lingo. You need the right connections. You need the right network to take part in it, which is already very political, but also just coming from an aspect to the entry level to enter it, especially in the international organizations, as well as that, when I started at my internship, I just came out as a fresh graduate from my studies in nutrition and rural developments and all of, most of my other colleagues I saw with who were on the same level as interns were doing ongoing, you know, their second or third internship and doing, you know, having two bachelors and two masters, one or several scholarships and stuff like that, just to be able to have an internship position.

I think this already shows this a bit of a system failure, in terms of like how we can engage young people in policy spaces, if this is just the internship position that we have to look into, because this is also far from also talking about, you know, being able to, to speak or to share your perspective in those spaces.

But at the World Food Forum, I would say that we are trying to change that to really make sure that we can, we're trying to find out different ways that we can engage young people and for young people to engage with us also within the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in this aspect as well to co-write, you know, what are the key messages in terms of specific topics that also reflect, you know, what young people want and think about the food system and its transformation as well?

What we also try to do is also to make things a bit simpler, so not having this kind of bureaucratic way of acting within the World Food Forum. And we really try to make it safe and inclusive as possible, where anyone, everywhere can share their ideas. And hopefully in this way, we can also connect those who are already, you know, active in this policy spaces to act as the mentors and also have that knowledge sharing to bring in more young people and to encourage them to, to come into these spaces and to share their thoughts and opinions as well.

But I think like going back as well, thinking, you know, to your question of what is the best method to involve young people in food systems? I think there's no one size fit all solution, but I think globally one of the very first steps that we can do is to take a look at our education system, both in informal and formal ways.

I mean, if I look back at my primary school and high school education, barely learned about what, where food came from, did not know what nutrition was, you know, even the word food system that is also a very complex in itself already as well. Right? Because that also captures everything from production consumption, that also includes, you know, aspects like forestry, and deserts where we perhaps do not make the linkages to. 
I think what we need is also to create that global understanding about what food systems are and where it is broken for young people to be able to actually, you know, be informed and also to take action, because I don't think, you know, we can do what we don't know, as well.

And I think, from a personal side as well, that's how I started, when I started learning about, you know, the insane facts about our food system. I was just reading the other day, that a head of lettuce takes 27 years to decompose in the landfill. I mean, immediately I went out and got a compost bin, because I was like, that is just unacceptable.
And I think it's like, things like this, that people, when you make that click in people's minds of what they can do and why they should do it, I think that could be, you know, how we can really mobilize young people to take action in the food system and also, you know, involve the other stakeholders to take that action with us. Whether it's media, private sector, civil societies, government, I think this is a point that we have to work all together with.
I think the challenges that we have in the food system are too large for a single action. And we really need everyone on board.

Maame: Great points raised Michelle. Thank you so much. I believe that it's about time that the policy spaces is made attractive, you know, just as you mentioned, and made a safe space where young people can come and share their thoughts and ideas, and also we need to make the messaging relevant to the needs of young people today.

We have really given a clear picture of the current food systems, as it relates to youth involvement and what needs to be done, what are the missing links. I believe that when all of these are taken into consideration, something will change.
I believe that you are all visionaries and, really dream of a future that is, inclusive when it comes to youth engagement in our food systems. So, what would it look like when youth are fully engaged in food systems? What would it look like for, the different stakeholders for governments, for private sector and even for our livelihoods in general?

Sarim: I think I can go first. I think, if youth are fully engaged in the food systems and the utopian version of food systems for me would be first: everyone would have access to good nutritious food. 
A utopian version of food system is that everyone has access to good nutritious food three times a day, at least, regardless of their socioeconomic condition. And the second thing is that we'll be able to reverse back a lot of damage that has been done because of poor nutrition, previously.

So, for example, in developed world, that would be rolling back on obesity and for developing countries, it might be pushing back on the rates of stunting and wasting that we see that are there as a surge of poor nutritional intake for the past 30, 40 years. So that's the utopian version of food systems for me.
And the third would be that we make food systems, future proof to climate change. So regardless of, how climate change happens or affects those systems, we are able to make sure that everyone has access to affordable meals three times a day, affordable, nutritious meals three times a day.

And the fourth would be food and food systems as a public good, that has to be safeguarded regardless of any crisis that takes place on Earth. And that is something that should have a global consensus, so that we do not see food inflation taking place as it is. And it’s a very big issue.
Everyone right now is talking about oil inflation. But, if you read BlackRocks analysis, it says that, uh, we should not be worried about oil as much as we should be worried about food, because food is something that's necessary. And if you don't get affordable meals three times a day, affordable, nutritious meals.
So, these are the four things that I feel are the future of food systems. And from a youth lens, youth, first of all, need to be, to put it simply, I think if you want to make this utopian food system reality, we need to go beyond the tokenistic involvement of youth groups in policy debates in actions, and need to actually commit to empowering them because we are going to be the consumers in the next 30, 40 years.

And if we don't have a good food system, we will not have anything to actually rely on. So, I think that is, to put it shortly, we need to go beyond tokenistic involvement of youth and actually have that commitment, to listen to them and not talk to them and have them at the table and make them a part of the decision making process by also empowering them to build the kind of solutions that they want.
Michelle: Thanks Sarim for that. And I think building on your utopia view as well, if I may, on the other side, because I think you touched most of the points or all of the points on the side of consumption, but I think as well, adding to the utopia as a side, also on the side of the, the production side, where I hope the food system in the future is no longer exploitative of the people who are behind it, that, you know, farmers are and producer fishermen are able to have a decent livelihood for it. And also, for developing countries to no longer be exploited in this process as well. Where the countries that feed us are also, you know have their food security insured. So that is just to add to the points of the utopia.

But I think what it would mean for me, or how I would see it, if young people are involved in the policy spaces is that we would finally see action. We would finally see the urgency. We would finally see how actions can be taken in urgency and reacted to in the right way, because right now to achieve, you know, sustainability in any sense, and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we need to act in urgency.
And I think it is the youth who can bring that energy, you know, disrupting the normal ways of how things are being done in these spaces. You know, converting all these slow, bureaucratic, diplomatic ways of doing to, you know, to see action out of it, see action, the right actions, the right investments, you know, also to see the right governance. I think as young people, we set the tone and we put, we can put a lot of pressure into our governments too, to do the right thing because we, as the people they serve us and we have to make sure that the governance is strong as well, and that we can see strong leadership.

And I think this is how young people can play on the both sides of the end, right? Being in policy, but also being on the other end, being asked to be treated the way that we want to be treated and to see our futures the way we want it. To add on it as well, is that I think with young people in decision making processes, I believe that they can really change the system where we would put the system where people and environment comes first and not profit.

Maame: Thank you, Michelle. So, just to summarize what panellists have said regarding the future of a sustainable food system that rightly engages youth, we would see action, the right governance, the right investments to build the sustainable food system that we will inherit now. 
We are coming to the end of our podcast and I would love that our amazing panellists share their call to action messages to the young people that are listening and even the older people. 
So now over to you guys, call to action.

Sarim: So for me, I think, the private sector has a keen role to play in the future of food systems.  recent as in the last 50 years, what we have seen is that the private sector has become huge and it has a lot of power and I would like to quote, Uncle Ben here «With great power comes great responsibility», but we haven't seen the responsibility angle from the private sector yet.

Hence my call to action is for the private sector to actually realize their responsibility beyond tokenistic actions of sustainability and actually integrate sustainability throughout their value chain and take it as a responsibility rather than just a tokenistic involvement.

For food entrepreneurs or agri entrepreneurs I would say: start building solutions that you really believe in, the capital will come, and solutions always need time to pivot. But if you believe in the solution that you're creating, I will definitely recommend that you stick with it.
The capital will flow. The regulatory framework will change, and your solution will flourish. 

Maame: Now to Michelle. 

Michelle: So, my call to action is that for us to all work together as young people and to empower and inspire each other, like the challenges in our food system are really daunting and they're really large, they can be very stressful to even think about it. But I think together we can do it. 
And in the policy space, I see more and more, interest from governments, UN, policymakers, academia, to engage young people. We engage with young people. So let’s write our food futures together. Don't get discouraged with it.
Let’s come together to make sure that the food system that we've inherit is something that we want to inherit. 

Maame: Great. Thank you so much, Michelle and Sarim!

Today we have heard that our food system, as it's currently stands, does not entirely represent young people well enough, even though young people are already entrepreneurs, activists, agriculturists, and consumers. Older people have been making decisions without young people for far too long, but change cannot occur if we, as young people do not have access to healthy, affordable, nutritious food, which doesn't harm the climate.
We need to future proof our food systems and to do this, human rights need to be acknowledged and commitment we have been promised by big decision makers need to be acted upon. We need to be heard, talk to and not talked with. We also need representation. We urge our listeners to look at your colleagues, who are they? Do they represent the world around us?

We need to pave the way for diversity with voices and experiences.

There is hope. Young people want to ship and shake up change within the food system and youth groups are coming together to showcase and push for change such as the Act4FoodAct4Change movement, the World Food Forum, the Thought For Food Foundation.

And the older generations are beginning to listen and they are beginning to have us at the table. Thank you, Michelle and Sarim for all the wonderful work you do, and for sharing your knowledge with us today, and thank you everyone at home for listening.