Lessons from Nigeria in engaging youth in food system policies
The Government of Nigeria cultivated its commitment to young people as drivers of food systems transformation at last year’s United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS). Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari pledged to enhance “productivity of smallholder farmers and empowering women and youth for greater access to food production and processing assets and resources”
For International Youth Day 2022 GAIN spoke to Joyce Akpata, Head of Policy and Advocacy at GAIN Nigeria and Azeez Salawu, one of 30 youth leaders leading the global campaign Act4Food Act4Change representing Nigeria. Joyce and Azeez are both involved in the Nigeria National Pathways to Food Systems Transformation. In this interview they share their perspectives and insights on Nigeria’s intergenerational approach to food system policy spaces.
Azeez, why are you interested in getting involved in food systems policymaking?
I am interested because policymaking is the backbone of the sustainable food system we want. There is nothing much that could be achieved without robust policy frameworks. I noticed in my community that there was a huge gap between resources and information available to smallholder farmers. I knew there were many technologies available that could help increase local productivity and felt it was unjust that these food producers did not have access to them just because they were from rural communities. Determined to act, I began the initiative (Community Action for Food Security) that is committed to promoting food security by supporting sustainable agriculture and enhancing livelihoods for local food producers through training, capacity building and policy advocacy.
Joyce, tell us about the current state of food system policy in Nigeria? What are government priorities and what is GAIN working on?
A lot is going on in the policy space now and much of this can be credited to the UNFSS. It has galvanised stakeholders across domains like nutrition, agriculture, health, environment. Emerging from the UNFSS Dialogues, the National Pathways to Food Systems Transformation has over 80 transformative actions and is helping to prioritise and identify the quick wins that will accelerate achievement of zero hunger and food and nutrition security. Prioritising youth engagement is a national priority in 2022.
GAIN Nigeria is working with relevant departments of government to drive effective implementation while also supporting states ready to kick-off implementation by domesticating the pathways and priority actions and identifying early wins, especially States where GAIN projects contributing to food systems transformation are already underway.
Azeez, tell us a little about your experience being involved in the Nigeria National Food Systems Pathway development.
It all began with initiating and hosting the second independent UN Food systems dialogue in Nigeria. We received support and encouragement from the National Convenor and her team. Afterward, I was asked to join the Nigerian UNFSS dialogue core group as the youth leader.
The experience has been awesome for me as I am learning and working directly with the Nigerian National Convenor. From the planning of the various regional exploratory dialogues, serving as curator for the National Youth Exploratory Dialogue, and guiding other youth organizations in planning their independent dialogues have really helped to shape my mindset around the need for a sustainable food systems transformation through strategic leadership, partnership, and policy reforms that would impact the lives of small-scale farmers, youth, and women across the agricultural value chain.
Joyce, at which level of policy development are youth engaged? Why do you think it is important to involve youth in food systems policy?
Youth are engaged at both policy development and implementation levels because there is a lot they can contribute to. The Act4Food Act4Change Campaign supported by GAIN and Food Foundation enables young people to engage across various fora to make their voices heard. In Nigeria, youth have engaged with policy makers to advocate and create awareness on their top actions for change. They organised two major outreach programs at local universities to raise awareness about food systems and support other youth to hone their skills to better engage government and businesses.
Nigeria has a large youth population, and this youth population will only continue to rise with the high trend of global population growth. There is an increase in awareness among youth on the issues affecting food systems such as poor infrastructure, climate change and environmental degradation due to unsustainable agricultural practices; among others, and with this there is also a corresponding demand for accountability from government and policy makers to strengthen food systems and ensure availability of nutritious, safe, affordable, and sustainable diets, accessible to all.
Azeez, how do you think your involvement (and that of other youth) has impacted the outcomes of the food system pathways?
The involvement of young people has positively impacted the outcomes of the food systems pathways. We can bring our creative ideas and innovation to the table. Young people as vice chair of the food systems pathways really brought more transparency and accountability to the process as we were able to monitor and evaluate the progress of the food systems pathways even beyond the summit.
In Nigeria, we are working closely with the core group on the Food systems implementation pathways to achieve food systems sustainability through collaboration and engagements with different stakeholders in the food systems sector. The Act4Food university outreach program engaged 5,000 young people. This helped to build a community of young food systems change makers, foster talent, and develop emerging leaders and professionals in food systems, and encourage as many as young people to sign the pledges and votes for Actions for Change.
Joyce, what is your experience of involving youth so far? What achievement are you proudest of?
It has been an interesting journey working with young people and I have been amazed by the extensive ideas that have emerged and most especially their doggedness and sense of responsibility. We underestimate their capabilities in so many ways. I am proud of how they were able to drive the Act4Food Act4Change campaign through very ingenious and creative ideas especially the strategic use of new media, which ensured that a substantial proportion of the population was able to hear the youth’s voices and vote for the various priorities they had put forward during the UNFSS process and beyond. It has been most impressive. The campaign gathered 6,250 pledges and over 1,500 votes.
Azeez and Joyce, what challenges have you faced by involving youth in food systems policymaking?
Joyce - A key challenge has been having to change the general perception that young people are not interested in agriculture because they don’t see it as ‘cool’ and the few who have piqued interest will not have their interest sustained long enough to yield any impactful results. What young people need is increased engagement and an opportunity to express themselves.
Azeez - For me, it has been challenging as young people are still seen as minors and are relegated to beneficiaries. Any implementation for young people without involving them in the planning process will not be sustainable. As young people, there is a need to tap the strength of older generations and for them to ride on our strength, innovation, and creativity working together as critical stakeholders to achieve a common purpose.
Joyce, what is your advice to other governments concerning youth engagement in food system policymaking?
The agriculture sector remains a dominant source of youth employment and must be transformed to become more youth-friendly and stimulating with reduced entry barriers. This transformation will need input from the youth hence the need for increased engagement with them through policy dialogues, like the United Nations Food System Summit, to get their perspective on issues. Today, youth participation has a key role in decision-making and policy dialogue and government needs to be more receptive of the youth and engage them as leaders because they could successfully take on the leadership role and change the policy environment themselves.
Azeez, what is your advice to other youth people that want to get involved with food system policymaking?
There is a need for them to equip themselves with more knowledge for productive engagement and contribution to food systems policy reform. There is need for them to identify their strength and area of interest thereby putting their attention as the food systems value chain is broad. There is need for them to identify mentors in their identified area and get involved in food systems policy dialogues locally, nationally, and regionally. There is no small action as its relevant to achieving a sustainable food system which requires all stakeholder’s collective effort!
Joyce and Azeez’s emphasise the need for youth to be engaged in various stages of food systems policy development and for youth to step forward in changing food systems because they are the consumers, entrepreneurs, and the change makers of today and the future.
In commemorating International Youth Day, GAIN encourages young people to act towards food system transformation and stand behind the slogan “nothing about us without us.”