How “Little Things” Led to a UN Food Security Declaration

The prospect of nine billion people being on the earth in 2050 is pretty scary.

Scarier yet, though, is the challenge of feeding them.

But even scarier still is looking into the future and knowing that a scant 35 years from now, you, the person in the mirror, will be the one who’ll be trying to feed everyone.

That’s the reality facing today’s young farmers and agricultural business professionals. Not only will they inherit a world increasingly turned upside down by politics, religion, economics, technology and climate change, but they also have to pull together to figure out how to keep that world fed…so it doesn’t get even more volatile than it’s already poised to do. Hungry nations are angry, desperate nations, and we have the potential to help stave that off.

Today’s young farmers will be firmly entrenched in senior decision-making roles by 2050. They have a huge responsibility, one that requires exemplary leadership skills.

In fact, that responsibility will be on their shoulders long before 2050 arrives. The decades leading up to it could well be the most important for food security. The way farmers and society harmonize their interests between now and then has everything to do with how well the global population gets fed.

Can there be a bigger impetus for cooperation, at home and abroad? Has there ever been a more important time for farmers to acquire the skills that help them connect with the public?

These questions underline the importance of organizations that assist with leadership development, those such as 4-H and Canadian Young Speakers for Agriculture, and those that support youth development.

One such effort, the global Youth-Ag Summit, has its origins in Canada. The first summit was held just two years ago in Calgary, thanks to the efforts of Bayer CropScience and 4-H Canada. It brought together 100 young people 18-25 years old from more than 30 countries, with a goal of sharing perspectives and creating a dialogue on how science and agriculture have a role in feeding the world as the population grows. Participants are selected by how well their 1,500-word essays on global food security impress judges.

This year’s summit took place at the end of August, in Canberra, Australia. One of the four Canadian delegates was University of Guelph alumnus Courtney O’Neill, one of my former agricultural communications students who now works in nutrition and marketing for Agribrands Purina.

Courtney O’Neill, with her "3 Little Things."

Courtney O’Neill, with her “three little things.”

While the rest of us were chowing down on Christmas dinner she was laboriously poring each word of her essay. It paid off when she was selected to participate, early in the New Year.

The main point of her submission was the need for education. People her age, she says, don’t really understand the formidable feed-the-world task in front of them, and how it will take good planning, good technology and good will to get the job done.

She brought back a determination from the summit to change that. Each delegate was charged with vowing to do what organizers called “three little things” to inch the world towards a sustainable future in agriculture.

Hers were reducing food waste, joining an agricultural women’s network to connect with others who have similar concerns, and starting a blog to keep education and sustainability in the public eye.

“After the summit, you feel empowered to change the world,” she says,

And that may indeed be on the horizon. This year, the summit participants crafted a declaration to the United Nations, which will be presented by two delegates, from Australia and Kenya, in Rome to the UN Committee on World Food Security next month.

Among other things, it calls for developing a multi-channel platform for educators in the agricultural industry, to build greater skills through ongoing education. As well, the declaration calls for developing a global youth platform to build a movement and develop youth leaders through mentorship and education by youth groups.

Kudos to Bayer CropScience for its commitment to this program. Kudos too to delegates like Courtney who are not only helping shape the future of food production, but will actually be the ones doing it.


Owen Roberts

Owen Roberts directs research communications and teaches at the University of Guelph, and is president of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists. You can find him on Twitter as @theurbancowboy


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One Comment

Albert Wagner

We will never feed the world if we, the well fed, do not allow science to help us.

Albert Wagner


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