Young people say YES! to a sustainable food system

By Rahul Antao and Francesca Romana Borgia

The Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) has for long embodied an ambition to bring together young people, from multi-disciplinary backgrounds, to contribute to shaping a better food system. The BCFN Young Earth Solutions (YES!) contest aims to achieve such a result by inviting young talented PhD and post-doc level researchers from around the world to come up with practical projects to foster a better balance between food and environmental sustainability.

Recently BCFN hosted the 8th International Forum for Food and Nutrition, where the YES! finalists presented their proposals, in front of a collection of experts, following which two winners were announced. IFAD, being a part of the jury in the selection of projects, was invited to participate in the forum and had the opportunity to have a deeper and meaningful interaction with the finalists and the winners.

BCFN Yes! 2017 finalists and three winners (on the left hand side of the moderator)
This year’s winners, Joana Abou Rizk and Theresa Jeremias, focused on maternal and child nutrition among refugees and host communities in Greater Beirut, with emphasis on anaemia. The aim is to examine the underlying causes of anaemia and to improve maternal and child nutrition using sustainable nutrition education approaches to fight hidden hunger in Lebanon and post-conflict Syria. A second winner, Laura Garzoli, from the National Research Council – Institute of Ecosystem Study, focused on promoting integrated pest management strategies to enhance ecosystem services provided by bats in rice agroecosystems .

While the 2017 YES! winners were selected for their innovative proposals in addressing some of the pertinent social and environmental issues in the food system, it should be acknowledged that the rest of the finalists also came forward with noteworthy proposals. These ranged from addressing the formal/informal seed systems, researching biogas production under cowpea cultivation; to proposals that focused geospatial mapping of using forests to support nutrition during times of drought and others that focused on the effects of third party certification programs on markets. All these shortlisted finalists had one common denominator, they all brought out a sense of positive disruption, to stir up the dust and seek to innovate in solving an array of challenges.

The Forum also hosted break-away working session for these young voices to collaborate amongst each other and ideate on means to overcome the current burning issues of the current food system. Young participants gathered in four groups proposing solutions for food-related SDGs (#2 zero hunger, #3 good health and well-being, #4 Quality education, #10 Reduced inequalities, #11 Sustainable cities and communities, #12 Responsible consumption and production, # 13 Climate action, # 14 Life on land). This gave IFAD participants a chance to interact with a wide range of young people from grassroots’ network organisations, advocacy groups, academic institutions and BCFN YES! Alumni. IFAD also had the opportunity to sponsor the participation of two young students Tolulope D. Adika and Andres Morales, selected among those who benefitted from the 'IFAD – Universities win-win partnership' grant, approved in 2015 to present their experience and their research results at the forum.

From left to right: Rahul Antao (IFAD consultant), Tolulope Adika, Francesca R. Borgia (IFAD consultant), Andrés Morales and Bolanle Titilola  
Indeed, the BCFN forum served as true platform for learning, sharing, scouting ideas, strengthen partnerships and building new ones with various individuals, organisations and agencies. In bolstering our collective commitment towards achieving the SDGs, we were reminded by Sir Bob Geldof in the closing ceremony how “Easter Island remains a good reminder of how we need to think about our limited resources before we use them endlessly.” It is up to everyone to do their part - governments, the private sector, civil societies and people - before we all become Easter Islanders!