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23 November 2023

SIANI at the WFF 2023 – what happened and what happens next?

World Food Forum 2023, FAO Headquarters. Photo by Alice Tunfjord.

The World Food Forum (WFF) is an independent, youth-led global network of partners facilitated and hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Its global movement aims to empower young people to shape agrifood systems to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The WFF is the premier forum of its kind to invite youth to identify solutions and initiate action for agrifood systems. 

Every October since 2021, the World Food Forum hosts its annual flagship event in Rome and online. The event gathers people from all over the world, of all ages and backgrounds, to get together and find pathways for action, impact and acceleration on all levels towards sustainable agrifood systems for all.  Various groups, including civil society, academia, the private sector, governments and UN organizations, gather at FAO headquarters in Rome for five days to participate in cooking shows, masterclasses, roundtables, exhibitions and assemblies. 

The 2023 Flagship event 

The World Food Forum 2023 was held on 16-20 October around the theme “Agrifood systems transformation accelerates climate action” and was organised into three interlinked fora – the WFF Global Youth Forum, the FAO Science and Innovation Forum and the FAO Hand-in-Hand Investment Forum.  Over 6000 people from all over the world, mostly youth, participated in Rome. More than 20,000 people connected through the virtual platform. 

At the FAO headquarters, attendees played games, heard presentations, and engaged in activities such as Gorilla Conservation Coffee in Uganda, the Transformative Research Challenge (TRC), the Youth Food Lab (YFL) and Startup Innovation Awards (SIA). These events showcased youth innovators, entrepreneurs and researchers, and their solutions for a sustainable agrifood system. 

During the 2nd Session of the Biennial UN Global Indigenous Youth Forum, which took part in parallel to WFF, two nomadic tents outside the atrium hosted discussions around the challenges faced by indigenous youth and the solutions needed for sustainable food systems and cooking showcases by indigenous peoples from Sápmi to Panama. 

workers in a rice and sweet potato field. Photo by Jocelyn Duval

Youth voices on their participation

SIANI asked three participants what they bring with them from the Forum. 

Why did you participate in the World Food Forum? 

SIANI asked three participants what they bring with them from the Forum.

Jocelyn Duval, CEO of the Duval Diri Lokal company, an agricultural company specializing in rice and sweet potato as well as the marketing sector. The production of small millet is also underway:  

As a peasant, farmer, president of an agricultural company in Haiti, it is with enthusiasm that I participated in this great Forum, which brought together motivated people who supported the search for solutions and would make it possible to transform our agrifood system. Despite, the difficulties we encountered in Haiti, we persist, because our farmers only depend on agriculture which is the only source of income.

Alessandro Silvello, Italian representative in the Global Youth Biodiversity Network (GYBN) and founder of Regeneration Italia:

My participation in the WFF was driven by a multifaceted understanding of the agrifood system’s challenges and the role of youth in reshaping its future. 

What is your main takeaway from the event?

Ebba Engström is a PhD student at Imperial College London. She researches the multi-dimensional sustainability in vineyards in the United Kingdom. She was also part of the Young Scientist Group of the World Food Forum:

In attending the WFF, it can be said that as an event or organisation mechanism, it can be seen as a simplified representation of the complex stakeholder system that makes up food systems globally. As such the WFF and its interlinked network could present a unique opportunity to ethnographically understand stakeholder-based influences and interactions in our global food systems.

Alessandro: My most significant takeaways included the establishment of valuable connections and the realization that youth engagement needs to transcend beyond mere participation in events. Young people must be given the reins to initiate and lead transformative actions. Merely providing a platform without real empowerment does little but perpetuate existing cultural norms that need to be challenged and reformed.

Ebba and Alessandro also reflected upon the contribution of the Forum to transform our agrifood systems towards a sustainable global food system.

Alessandro: Reflecting on the WFF’s overall contribution to driving transformative actions towards a sustainable global food system, I believe there was a gap between its aspirations and actual impact. While the Forum effectively generated excitement, involved youth, and spread awareness, it did not achieve the deep-seated change it aimed for. A youth forum, to be truly effective, should encapsulate the rebellious, unprejudiced, and innovative spirit of youth. It should not only facilitate discussions but also lay the foundation for concrete actions and enable youth to turn ideas into reality.

Ebba: I think the WFF has a lot of potential to engage networks and enable the formation of partnerships – which could indeed result in further transformative change. However, as with most of these high-level events, we should instead be asking ourselves how their impacts are monitored and evaluated, and how actionable outcomes are followed up on. That is the way in which we can actually ensure that change is occurring.

International Year of Millets Master Chef Challenge, FAO Headquarters. Photo by Alice Tunfjord.

During the closing ceremony, the discussions held throughout the week were summarized by Audrey Wong, WFF Youth Policy Board member, who concluded that youth are asking for education and capacity building, including more formal education and hands-on experience.  Audrey emphasized the importance of multilateral and multi stakeholder collaboration, where intergenerational discussions and two-way dialogues are critical. She also raised that meaningful youth engagement in decision-making processes should happen through local action.

Similarly, Elisabeth Kabakoyo, WFF national chapter representative from Uganda, shared her insights on youth empowerment.

“The key to empowering youth is through local level initiatives that take a bottom-up approach.” There are currently 12 WFF national chapters, and Elisabeth raised that while we must think globally, we can all act nationally through these chapters. A WFF National Chapter is aself-organized national platform aligned to the principles and mission of the WFF and convened by a network of partners/organizations within a country. National Chapters undertake activities and projects in line with the WFF’s mission and tracks, and more.”  The WFF is launching new chapters in different regions around the globe, and anyone can engage in one in their region.

From the indigenous youth discussions held throughout the week, Judy Kipkenda, Africa Focal Point for the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus, said that decision makers and UN entities should not miss the opportunity to protect the planet and human beings. Once again, she reiterates that we are far away from reaching the SDGs, and that Indigenous Peoples demand justice, reparation and restoration from historical damage. She mentioned the wish for specific funds to preserve indigenous food systems and knowledge and urged leaders to involve indigenous youth directly in this work.

The future ahead

SIANI also sees the Forum as an excellent space to meet with old and new partners, engage with youth partners and learn about the action and dialogues taking place on the topic of sustainable agrifood systems. The World Food Forum highlighted the pivotal role that youth engagement plays in global processes. It emphasised the significance of partnership, collaboration, and solidarity by bringing together all partners across the spectrum to take concrete actions. Although the Forum has primarily focused on raising awareness about the importance of youth participation in the decision-making process and local governance, it served as an excellent platform for expressing views, presenting ideas, and sharing experiences across various domains, during its sessions, workshops, and events. At the same time, policymakers and organisations in all sectors must – echoing Alessandro and Ebba – take concrete actions based on youth’s ideas and make sure that these are followed up, monitored and not left at the forum. SIANI will continue its focus on the recognition of rural youth in its upcoming activities in 2024, and foster dialogue around the fact that youth have many ideas and already engage in different forums – but need support and resources to learn from previous experiences in this field in order to bring their ideas into action. 

While waiting for the flagship event in 2024, you can join the World Food Forum Global Group on LinkedIn to chat and connect to other participants.

Nomadic tent and mobile kitchen from the Sámi people of Norway, FAO headquarters. Photo by Alice Tunfjord.

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