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Young entrepreneurs drive sustainable food systems transformation

Photo by Tony Pham on Unsplash.

In recent years, there has been a growing interest in innovation-driven business models that have the potential to provide effective and sustainable solutions to environmental and health challenges. At the same time, these businesses generate a positive social impact as the model supports local communities through employment.

Entrepreneurship and innovation are critical for making our food production resilient and sustainable. When given the opportunity, young people can lead the change. It’s time to help  youth to develop their business ideas, understand how to make a business plan, learn how to run a business and access start-up capital.

During the UNFSS, it soon became apparent that food systems have the potential to provide livelihood opportunities for youth, but challenges remain for them to join the sector. Nowadays, many circumstances impede youth engagement in food systems. Even though youth can be entrepreneurs within their communities and sector, agri-food systems need to be more appealing to young people and assure access to financial services, markets, and education. At the same time, it’s clear that these young agri-entrepreneurs need support, technical assistance and investment capital as they grow and scale. Despite the difficulties, young people are already contributing to change and food system innovations.

Giving the floor to young entrepreneurs

The main message is about the need to improve and widen the recognition of young agripreneurs, and not just in relation to innovation and entrepreneurship, but also in addressing unmet environmental needs, such as circularity, healthy food systems and sustainability in agriculture.

Being aware that the role of youth and youth perspectives within food systems often have been overlooked in the current discussions, it is important to feed in with youth perspectives and voices and ensure that youth is treated as a diverse and essential actor for sustainable and inclusive food systems. SIANI has organised several activities during the year to connect food systems to young people, and collaborated with multiple actors and people with insights to this issue – and will continue with this focus area.

Since 2018, SIANI’s Expert Group Agripreneurship Alliance has for instance worked to enable a new generation of young African entrepreneurs to create wealth, employment and provide access to sustainable, safe and nutritious food to local and global communities while promoting women empowerment and gender equality.

SIANI also participated in Almedalen to discuss the role of youth in sustainable and inclusive food systems and the World Food Forum 2021, aiming to tackle the challenges and opportunities of youth in transforming food systems. Finally, youth and food systems have centered the SIANI annual meetings in the last couple of years.

On 20 October 2022, SIANI organised a side-event at the World Food Forum Flagship event 2022:  “Snacking for a healthy planet”. The event, hosted together with WWF Sweden Youth and the Government of Sweden, gave audiences new insights into innovation-driven business models that could promote sustainable eating habits in the form of healthy and functional snacks. The snacking industry is increasing, and people are more often than before replacing meals with snacks. The changing eating habits of younger generations give rise to a new market, but is it also important that new products are sustainably produced, healthy and nutritious. Given this new scenario, entrepreneurs within the agrifood business could provide new healthy and sustainable alternatives to the snack market. SIANI invited young entrepreneurs to present their business in the snacking industry, and together discussed how youth businesses can be supported in a growing and opportunistic market.

Young entrepreneurs in focus

Dorah Momanyi, the founder of the Nutritious Agriculture Network in Kenya, is one example of a young female leader in the forefront of transforming the food system through healthier and more sustainable eating habits. By re-establishing the use of indigenous grains, such as sorghum, amaranth and millet, in the production of snacks and by making plant-based snacks from a drought-tolerant crop, Momanyi hopes to end malnutrition, transform the current food system and make it more sustainable and reclaim the sovereignty of indigenous cereals to Africa.

Another young entrepreneur is Affiong Williams, a Nigerian entrepreneur from Cross River State. She is the founder and CEO of Reel Fruit, a Nigerian company that processes and distributes locally grown fruit.

SIANI and its partners continue to support and recognise women and youth’s entrepreneurial skills and contribution to food production.