This year’s observance of International Youth Day aims to highlight the crucial role of the youth in transforming food systems for human and planetary health. 

 
In line with this and for this month’s Realitalk, we reached out to our very own Youth Cluster Coordinators (Dani Madriaga, Keith Ancheta, Ivana Joaquin, Justin Federigan, Ruzzel Morales, and Bea Dolores) to talk about the current state of the country’s food systems and the many ways the youth are contributing to effectively address food insecurity amid the pandemic, rapidly declining ecosystems, and the prevailing climate emergency.
 
In this feature, our Youth Coordinators discussed the importance of engaging young Filipinos in policy dialogues, where they can push for effective, science-based solutions that go against the grain.
 

What and how can the youth contribute to effectively address food insecurity amid the pandemic, rapidly declining ecosystems, and the prevailing climate emergency?

 

Youth Coordinators: As our most vulnerable communities reckoned with worsening food instability during the pandemic, a young Filipina set up a small bamboo cart with canned goods, rice, and vegetables, among other food supplies, on Maginhawa Street. Above it was a cardboard sign that read, “Magbigay ayon sa kakayahan. Kumuha ayon sa pangangailangan.” This act of kindness gave birth to a movement, with community pantries popping up all over the country. The success of these pantries implied many of us believe that food is not merely a commodity, but a fundamental right: nobody should go hungry. They also showed that localized, community-based food distribution is effective in meeting the needs of many. Ironically, food insecurity gave rise to glimpses of food sovereignty—and it all began with 26-year-old Ana Patricia Non, the youth’s energy, creativity, and capability personified.

By learning more about food security and sovereignty, the sociopolitical issues in food and agriculture, and land use’s role in ecosystem collapse, the youth will be able to raise awareness on these and contribute even more innovative long-lasting solutions that help both the planet and people. Those in the science community, especially those still at the beginning or have yet to start their careers, can choose the field of research in agroecology and study how to improve crops and their tolerance to environmental stress.  As we learn, we must also remember that change starts with ourselves. The youth are critical to spreading awareness, but sometimes we are so concerned with shifting mindsets that we forget to start at home, even through simple measures like growing more plants, practicing the proper segregation of food waste, and composting. We must remember that our actions must speak as loud as our words, for nothing is truly as convincing as being the change we want to see. As the community pantries showed, seemingly small acts can give rise to entire movements for the betterment of the earth, but with people still at the center. 

What is the youth’s take on the current state of food security in the Philippines and Indonesia, especially during the pandemic? How is the climate crisis adding another layer of threat to your country’s food systems?

 

Youth Coordinators: The Philippines is at its hungriest, with the most recent SWS Survey in September 2020 reporting a record 30.9% (3 out of 10) of Filipinos going hungry. The pandemic has certainly exacerbated food instability in the country, as food production and distribution have been heavily impacted, but this has been a problem long before COVID-19. For decades, those who have been feeding our country are the ones left with nothing to feed themselves and their families. Despite being an agricultural country, imports flood our economy, forcing our farmers to accept unbelievably low prices for their harvests. However, after going through the food supply chain’s bottleneck of traders, processors, and retailers, these reach our markets at sky-high prices that the most vulnerable simply cannot afford. If climate change, which causes hotter summers, longer droughts, and heavier storms, is not mitigated, our situation will only get worse.

"The youth want to help deliver a better reality for all Filipinos; unfortunately, not all have access to the knowledge, resources, and platform to do so."
YOUTH COORDINATORS

How important are youth empowerment and involvement in advancing climate-smart agriculture, establishing sustainable food systems, and achieving sustainable development? How can the government make the youth an integral part of the solution?

 

Youth Coordinators: Attend even one policy consultation and you’ll see how keen the youth are to be involved. Online, Zoom rooms’ chat boxes pop up with questions from the youth, and where there’s room to deliver a message or intervention, the youth will absolutely jump at the chance to do so. While we’re setting our own table at the grassroots, we still want a seat at this table, because we know these are where decisions with national impact are made. We might have a long way to go, but we are eager to learn. And because we haven’t gotten used to business as usual, or rather, have seen that it just doesn’t work, we are more likely to explore and push effective, science-based solutions that might go against the grain. This is critical in advancing climate-smart, sustainable systems across all sectors.

The youth want to help deliver a better reality for all Filipinos; unfortunately, not all have access to the knowledge, resources, and platform to do so. This is where the government can help. Quality education and guidance from professionals or experts can capacitate the youth to take the lead in innovation. Financial incentives from leaders in both the public and private sectors can fund youth-led projects, particularly in agriculture.

Engagement in policy dialogue will not only give a platform to the youth, but to the voices they amplify, including those of our farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, poor communities, and other marginalized sectors that are offered even fewer opportunities to be involved. 

Furthermore, empowered, capacitated youth will push for the policies we believe are necessary, such as the National Land Use Act for the sectors of agriculture and the environment. As Michael Mann in his book ‘The New Climate War’ said, “The youngest generation is fighting tooth and nail to save their planet, and there is a moral authority and clarity in their message that none but the most jaded ears can fail to hear.”

"Engagement in policy dialogue will not only give a platform to the youth, but to the voices they amplify, including those of our farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, poor communities, and other marginalized sectors that are offered even fewer opportunities to be involved."
YOUTH COORDINATORS

What specific initiatives, projects, or activities are you doing now together with your fellow youth Climate Reality Leaders that help in the transformation of food systems into a sustainable, climate-resilient, and environment-friendly one?

 

 Youth Coordinators: The Youth Cluster is at the culmination of Project Niche, a project proposal competition for climate advocates in high school and college, following its two-part fora Niche: Find Your Place in the Climate Space. The winners of Project Niche will receive seed money that will allow them to implement climate and environmental solutions in their local communities. These include projects in the field of agriculture and food security. We have received projects that aim to solve the intersection of various problems—agriculture and energy, agriculture and waste, and agriculture and awareness—ultimately boiling down to ensuring an environmentally sound community with food security.

Last June 25, Philippine Arbor Day, the Youth Cluster also conducted an agroforestry tree-planting activity at Sierra Madre, in partnership with Fostering Education & Environment for Development (FEED), Inc., following its Restore Donation Drive for this year’s World Environment Day.

Soon, the Food Security Group of the Youth Cluster will also be activated to carry out youth-led campaigns and programs in this sector. Many young CRLs also have initiatives of their own. Hilary Hao, together with Global Shapers, works on online webinars about building better food systems, which are now branching into other projects such as driving the development and passing of the Magna Carta of Young Farmers. Carissa Pobre also works on Slow Food Sari-Sari, which provides organic fresh produce sourced from small farmers to community kitchens and grows food gardens in solidarity with the urban poor, based on agroecological practices.