Georgine Obwana: Transforming food systems, youths innovation for human & planetary health- International Youth Day

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OPED- The United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres says “Young people are on the frontlines of the struggle to build a better future for all. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the dire need for the kind of transformational change they seek – and young people must be full partners in that effort.” 

I can’t agree more with the Secretary General. As we commemorate the International Youth Day on 12th August 2021 (IYD) under the theme “Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health” the world’s population is projected to surge by 2 billion people in the next 30 years. 

This forecast has made stakeholders to acknowledge that mere producing huge quantities of healthy food sustainably will not guarantee human and planetary health. There is need to look into other different key challenges such as the interconnections present in the 2030 Global Agenda which looks at poverty reduction, social inclusion, health care, biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation. 

Governments including Uganda have recognized the necessity for inclusive support mechanisms that make sure youth continue to intensify determination jointly and independently to restore the planet and protect life while incorporating biodiversity in the transformation of food systems. 

This year’s theme highlights that the success of a global effort will not be achieved without the meaningful participation of young people. This day provides us with a chance to celebrate and mainstream young peoples’ voices, actions and initiatives as well as their important, universal and equitable engagement. 

Uganda has a youthful population whose potential has to fully be tapped into so as the country can realize a middle income status and become an upper middle-income nation by 2040 with an average GDP per capita of US $ 9500. 

I know this may sound like a dream but just think through, it would be worse if we don’t dream as a country and for that matter dream big for our youth.  To achieve this dream, deliberate focused intentional targets and tailor-made interventions should be capitalized into raising products of young Ugandans ready to navigate an upper middle-income Uganda into a first world country.

These interventions should be geared towards access to health care, diversification of economy, education, good governance, skills development, sustainable use of nature and environmental stewardship.

With a 3.3% population growth rate per annum and more than 78% of Ugandans being young people aged 30 and below, it can only be definite that the number of youths will keep snowballing. How government attaches the capabilities of today’s youth and creates opportunities for tomorrow’s youth is fundamental for Uganda’s ability to continuously tap into a potential product. 

Employment! One of the principal challenge youth encounter in the journey of attaining employment is lack of experience. Numerous jobs on the market want applicants to have attained a certain minimum level of experience which is estimated at 2 years yet the greatest numbers of our youth do not have such experience after school. 

Youth unemployment is the most imminent problem in Uganda today affecting the socio-economic wellbeing and quality of life of many young people.  We keep witnessing the frustration and hopelessness among young people due to unemployment to the point of them questioning Uganda’s education system.

The 2016 Uganda National Household Survey by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics estimates the unemployment rate at 9% (those actively looking for employment but had not found any) but the World Bank places it at over 80%. These statistics speak volume of the bigger problem which has to be tackled immediately.

I believe jobs creation to meet the demands of the ever growing Uganda’s youth population entails good governance and accountability, supporting environments for entrepreneurship as well as both local and foreign domestic investment. Governance and accountability are predominantly significant in guaranteeing that young people have equitable access to the available jobs mainly in the formal sector. 

Youth in agricultureThe theme “Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health” of this year’s International Youth Day is relevant to the success of investing in the agriculture sector which perhaps provides the best opportunity for Uganda to harness the prospects and tap into the potential youth bring forth.

According to Uganda Bureau of Statistics, the agriculture sector employs about 65% of Uganda’s working population with youth comprising of 63%. Labor underutilization is widespread in the informal sector where agriculture constitutes most of the informal jobs. Majority Ugandan youth lack the necessities to get formal banking services making access to financing for agriculture the greatest challenge for those involved in this sector. 

Though more than two-thirds of young Africans who live in rural areas work in the agriculture sector, it is the least productive sector in African economies. Youth as draftspersons and implementers of the 2030 AgendaYouth have often been referred to as the ‘torchbearers’ of the 2030 Agenda, since they have a key role to play not just as beneficiaries of actions and policies under the Agenda, but more as partners and participants in its implementation. 

Certainly, youth have been draftspersons in the development of the 2030 Agenda and they continue to participate in the frameworks and processes that support its implementation, follow-up and review.Youth well-being, participation and empowerment are key drivers of sustainable development and peace around the world. 

Attaining the 2030 Agenda needs strong and inclusive partnerships between young people and all stakeholders so that the development challenges facing youth such as unemployment, political exclusion, marginalization, difficulty in accessing education and health are addressed and the positive role of youth as partners in promoting development and sustaining peace is recognized.

Youth have been at pole position of activities and initiatives aimed at furthering the 2030 Agenda and meeting the Goals. They are involved in countless ways including awareness-raising, data collection and use, grass-roots and national initiatives, monitoring and accountability efforts and reporting on progress.