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Bridging Borders for Food Security: IYDP's Journey to the World Food Forum

UNA-Canada’s Youth Delegation's Journey to the World Food Forum in Rome

By Melissa Wilk, Emily Krispis, Hoore Jannat, and Emel Tabaku

Launched in 2021, the World Food Forum (WFF) is an independent, youth-led global network of partners facilitated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). It aims to spark a global movement that empowers young people everywhere to actively shape agrifood systems to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and a better food future for all.

For the first time, the United Nations Association in Canada (UNAC) selected delegates to attend the WFF in-person in Rome, Italy, October 16-20, as a part of the International Canadian Youth Delegate Programme. With over 5,000 in-person attendees and 20,000 virtual participants, the WFF drew a diverse audience to engage in dialogue and collaborate on some of the most pressing issues of our time.

As the four delegates who attended, we are excited to share highlights and key insights from this incredible week in Rome. First, here’s a little bit about us:

Meet the Delegates

(From left to right: Hoore Jannat, Emel Tabaku, Emily Krispis, and Melissa Wilk)

Hoore Jannat holds a BA in Public Policy Co-op and International Development Studies and a MI in Information Systems and Design from the University of Toronto and is currently a Master of Digital Experience Innovation Candidate at the University of Waterloo.

Emel Tabaku is the Founder of a community arts non-profit, RCAD Initiative: Redefining Communities through Art + Design, a Junior Policy Analyst with Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, and a Master of Public Policy Candidate at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.

Emily Krispis is a Master of Public Policy Candidate at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, specializing in environment & health, and a Research Assistant at the Centre for Global Social Policy.

Melissa Wilk is a Policy Analyst at Natural Resources Canada and holds a MA in International Affairs from the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs (thesis: Inequality and Food Insecurity: Brazil Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic).

Key Highlights & Insights

The theme of the WFF, “Agrifood systems transformation accelerates climate action”, allowed for the integrated exploration of SDGs such as Zero Hunger (2), Good Health and Well-Being (3), Gender Equality (5), Reduced Inequalities (10), Responsible Consumption and Production (12), and Climate Action (13), within the variety of workshops, sessions, and roundtables at hand.

We attended engaging high-level sessions on a range of topics such as empowering local innovators for enhanced food and water security in a changing climate, harnessing biodiversity’s potential for managing climate risks in food systems, and strengthening science-policy interfaces in support of effective decision-making. (With so many interesting sessions, it was hard to decide what to attend!)

The divergence of personal interests and the multiplicity of events offered throughout the day meant that our post-WFF dinners (which of course included a lot of pasta), were lively and insightful. Some themes and key takeaways emerged in these late-night conversations which we hope to share with you here:

The Value of Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI)

Entering the atrium of the FAO for the first time was quite the sight: a bike powering someone’s next cup of coffee, bonsai tree art installations, booths displaying the latest innovations, and of course, the ceiling lined with UN member states’ flags.

Throughout the WFF, unique STI was all around us. During a session on bioeconomy, Spora Studio, passed around a styrofoam-like material to demonstrate the development of alternatives to petroleum and animal-based materials by mixing upcycled agricultural waste with fungal spores. Similarly, Vegea, showed participants biofabric made out of grape leftovers from winemaking and other natural discards from agriculture, from which they have developed sustainable fashion items like purses and shoes. Another unique project was utilizing artificial intelligence to predict plant disease based on the different levels of light the leaves reflect, which is allowing farmers to mitigate crop loss.

STI was not only grounded in tangible projects, but it was also at the forefront of many sessions. However, while STI can play a critical role in addressing acute food insecurity, speakers emphasized that it needs to be a “human-led” process. Innovation must also be place-based and context specific in order to develop effective localized solutions. This people centered approach will allow science to help form solutions and policy recommendations, but only if STI is developed alongside the individuals who are most affected.

This was quite present in a session on technology for multi-hazard resiliency where an Indigenous youth representative added a traditional and nature-based lens to the development and implementation of technological solutions. The intersection between culture and science permeated the WFF’s narrative, bringing forth the necessity to interconnect disciplines to create a stronger and more inclusive solution to pressing global issues. As several speakers reiterated the quote by William Gibson, “the future is already here, it is just not evenly distributed,” it is critical we reflect on the progress made and ensure that STI leaves no one behind.

The Critical Role of Young Leaders

(UN Youth Delegates met with Deputy Director General of FAO Beth Bechdol)

Throughout the WFF, we had the opportunity to engage with and learn from youth of all ages from around the world which was a powerful and empowering experience.

Speakers at nearly every session noted that employing and involving youth positively advances environmental priorities and contributes to generational thinking. This Forum created a space in which as young activists and diplomats, we were able to exchange ideas in a cross-cultural setting. For example, at the North American Youth Assembly, participants from across the United States and Canada shared their visions on how to better provide food in educational institutions. The comparative lens allowed us to conclude that our policies should reflect localized needs to prioritize a diversity of geographical and cultural perspectives. Youth play a critical role in expanding international collaboration and the co-designing of effective solutions.

Another key highlight was the opportunity for us to meet with FAO Deputy Director General Beth Bechdol to discuss the importance of youth delegations and youth engagement. As a result of not only this meeting but many sessions and sidebar conversations, we learned more about the need to ensure the meaningful and sustained participation of young people in UN processes and SDG advancement.

Uplifting Vulnerable Populations

Throughout the conference, we were reminded of the privilege of our positionality as Canadians and that it is imperative that (1) we wield our knowledge and power to advocate for marginalized communities and (2) give space for those who may not have a seat at the table to contribute and share their lived experiences and solutions. This was none more evident then during the closing ceremony when Licypriya Kangujam, a twelve-year-old climate activist and special envoy for the President of Timor-Leste, passionately highlighted the urgent need for developed nations to divert funds from wars to address global issues like hunger, education, and climate change.

(Licypriya Kangujam speaking at the WFF Closing Ceremonies)

Many sessions at the WFF stressed the importance of recognizing and amplifying the voices of the most vulnerable and frontline communities, as they are not only the most significantly impacted by the climate crisis but also hold a wealth of traditional knowledge and invaluable insights. One speaker profoundly stated that we need to go “back to the past” as a society to truly listen to Indigenous voices and knowledge that have been working with nature since time immemorial. In his closing remarks, the President of Ireland highlighted that those who are the most disproportionately impacted by climate change are often the ones contributing to it the least. By placing the most vulnerable and frontline communities at the center of discussions, we gain a more profound understanding of both the immediate and long-term impacts of global issues.

The WFF emphasized the importance of adopting an interconnected perspective for advancing SDGs -- and it was inspiring to collaborate with other youth and hear their stories of bringing together the complexities to work towards a more sustainable and inclusive future. These discussions were an important reminder for us that we cannot make progress while leaving people behind. As delegates, we were inspired with a renewed dedication to ensuring that our work and research not only considers, but uplifts the stories and experiences of vulnerable populations.

Final Thoughts

We had an incredible week attending the WFF and it was a blast learning together, laughing together, and exploring the city. Not only were we left with interesting insights that will contribute to our research and professional pursuits, but we also got to experience all the best that Rome has to offer. During our free time, we visited places such as the Trevi Fountain, the Roman Forum, Vatican City, and the Spanish Steps. We enjoyed delicious Italian meals, strolled the beautiful streets in neighborhoods like Trastevere and Ostiense, and even attended La Traviata Opera.

All in all, though it was a jam-packed whirlwind week, it was a truly unforgettable experience. We return to Canada invigorated and ready to share our knowledge and take action to transform our food systems to make them more sustainable, inclusive, and equitable.

We would like to extend our deepest gratitude to UNA-Canada International Programmes and to the families of Stéphanie Lacroix, Micah Messent, Danielle Moore, and Angela Rehhorn for sponsoring the commemoration fund that made this experience possible. Their belief in a better world was truly reflected in this event and it was an honour to be able to continue their legacy as youth delegates.


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