Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper), The Global Hunger Index of 2023 has revealed an alarming reality. After years of significant progress in combating hunger, we are now facing a stalemate, if not a regression. This turnaround is largely attributable to a series of complex and interconnected crises that are tearing apart the foundations of our global food system.
Climate change, economic shocks, the COVID-19 pandemic, and growing political instability, together with the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine and, more recently, the ongoing humanitarian disaster in Gaza, have generated a sort of “flaming arc” that threatens to envelop several regions of our planet and, by extension the whole of humanity. In particular, the war in Ukraine and the other crises have caused devastation in the food supply chain, leaving a vast number of countries in extremely dire conditions, most notably and just to name a few we can mention ETHIOPIA, YEMEN, AFGHANISTAN, SUDAN, SOMALIA, KENYA, but many others are currently in a state of extreme weakness.
With this in mind, and due to the fact that the majority of the countries named above are geographically located in the region, I would like to highlight the work that has been done in the Horn of Africa.
The report on the EU strategic relations and partnership with the Horn of Africa, for which I served as rapporteur and that was approved in July 2022, aims to provide concrete policy recommendations for tackling the challenges the region is confronted with. Furthermore, due to the similarity of most of the causes of these hurdles, the recommendations can be enlarged and replicated in other areas of the African continent and in other geographical contexts.
In particular, one of the key recommendations highlighted the need to strengthen the local ownership of all the initiatives launched and supported in the region to stimulate the adoption of a model of economic and social development that benefits the local population, rather than prioritizing large projects and macro-themes that are often detached from reality and from the needs of the inhabitants.
This emphasizes the importance of a more targeted and community-centered approach to improving living conditions in the region and beyond. It goes without saying that this renewed approach alone would not solve the problems linked to hunger worldwide, but it is certainly part of a larger and more complex architecture that we must build in close and frank cooperation with our counterparts.
One of the main aspects to take into account is indeed how to unleash the potential of youth worldwide in order to empower them to be the real catalyst for change and the most prominent actors in the adoption of policies that will shape our future, swiping away the role of mere spectators to which they are often confined. We must all bear in mind that the present youth generation, with its 1.2 billion individuals is the highest number in the history of humankind, is destined to inherit food systems that are currently in crisis.
Therefore, youth engagement cannot remain a box to tick in the requisites of a project or a mere slogan, but they must play a prominent role in shaping the future of the world they will live in. To do that, it is essential that governments and institutions compel themselves to include youngsters in the cycle of policy development for what concerns food, from the designing of action to its implementation, monitoring, and reporting.
When youth are involved, the creativity and dynamism of their proposals are always astonishing. I have witnessed it several times as I am serving as Lead Member of the “Young Political Leaders” Programme, an initiative of the European Parliament that brings together future political leaders from Third Countries in order to favor reciprocal trust and foster dialogue.
Over the years, promising projects emerged from these initiatives, demonstrating that even the smallest actions can make a difference and create a lasting impact.
This format could be replicated and tailored to food issues, not only by the EU but also by other regional and international organizations such as, for instance, the African Union or the UN through the FAO.
Acting this way, we can serve a double purpose. On the one hand, we would support the shaping of the leaders of tomorrow, while on the other we can also connect them with the current leaderships, thus fostering the perception of youth not as “someone to consult sporadically”, but as actual decision-makers that can bring immense added value to the table.
At the same time, I believe that the engagement of youth in food systems and their value chains should be cross-sectorial. Indeed, the programs set in place by local government, the EU, or other actors should not be limited to supporting direct farming and entrepreneurship in food-related activities, a tendency that is currently predominant as shown by the GHI 2023.
On the contrary, all the skills required for adopting a holistic approach to food systems should be properly considered and supported. I am referring to food science, microbiology, agronomy, and other sciences that are directly connected to food, but also to economics, technology, satellite observation, and alike, as they are integral parts of the supply chain of innovative, more sustainable, and more effective food production.
For doing that it will be paramount to encourage and support both financially and politically the establishment and reinforcement of specific school and university courses with all they involve, from scholarships for students to adequately skilled teachers and professors, passing of courses through sufficiently equipped laboratories and devoted research funds.
Moreover, we must reflect on the challenges and opportunities that the European Union will face in the coming years. First and foremost, after the new elections a renewal of the Parliamentary Alliance on Hunger and Malnutrition will be vital. The role of the Alliance has been and will continue to be instrumental in connecting MEPs and enabling them to engage actively in the fight against hunger and malnutrition.
We must realize that nutrition and food security are crucial issues that require not only increased attention but also more effective actions. The creation of a new Commission offers the opportunity to renew the commitment to sustainable food policies, the promotion of a balanced diet, and the fight against food insecurity. Some important steps must be taken for emphasizing the importance of nutrition for long-term development; linking it more strongly with other EU priorities and building coalitions of nutrition champions.
Better nutrition outcomes are necessary for long-term development but are vulnerable to short-term setbacks. Hence, a strong and updated policy framework can help to integrate nutrition with crisis response and development cooperation.
The quest before us is to actively encourage young people to enter decision-making institutions, providing them with access to education and opportunities for skills development.
We must invest in sustainable, equitable, and resilient food systems to ensure a sustainable and promising future for the young of today and tomorrow. We have a moral duty to act, to adopt policies and concrete initiatives to tackle the global food crisis.
Our commitment must be joint and unwavering because only through global coordination and joint investment we can build a fair and sustainable future.