This International Youth Day, we’re taking time to reflect on how the annual theme Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health links to young people, their sexual and reproductive health and rights and COVID-19. In this piece, Esther Makula also reflects on how youth are rallying for more innovative approaches to ensuring food security.
According to recent statistics, about 50% of the food available world wide is produced by women but women are also 70% of the world’s hungry. This number is striking but what’s more is that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has increased inequality worldwide and has made the vulnerable groups like women facing hunger even more vulnerable.
Having access to enough nutritious food is important for everyone to live healthy mental and physical lives. Malnutrition and undernutrition can lead to a number of sexual and reproductive health complications and development issues. Iron anemia for example can have severe consequences for pregnant people or people in labour and adolescents that face malnutrition face stunted growth and later in life can in turn face complicated labours and low birthweight babies. Chronic malnutrition can even lead to infertility. Even in settings where food is available, a lack of access to more healthy and nutritious food can also lead to other health conditions such as diabetes. Poor nutrition overall can negatively impact people’s sexual health leading to a low libido, pain during intercourse, illness and fatigue. All in all, having access to nutritious food is important for enjoyable and healthy sex lives.
'All in all, having access to nutritious food is important for enjoyable and healthy sex lives.'
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity and overall poverty has increased. The World Bank published that compared to 2019, 118 million more people were facing chronic hunger in 2020. This is not only worrying for the direct impacts on young people’s health and wellbeing, but also drives up other harmful practices such as sexual bartering, survival sex and child marriage. This puts young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights at risk. Here, the most marginalized young people are hit hardest – such as youth living with disabilities, LGBTQI+ youth, youth living with HIV, sex workers and young people living in humanitarian settings.
Due to COVID-19 regulations, such as lockdowns, have led to more young women and girls needing to stay home which has reduced their opportunities to make money and access to nutritious foods while also increasing their care responsibilities at home and escalating gender-based violence.
So how are young people taking a stand to hold their governments accountable and calling for better approaches that tackle food security? Esther Makula highlights how young people in Uganda are calling for better food policies and innovations:
Youth Task Government to Support Innovations, Acknowledge their Efforts
The youth in Uganda have tasked the government to support and recognize young innovators, ahead of International Youth Day 2021.
Themed “Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health”, it aims at emphasizing meaningful participation of the young people in development.
Julius Kasozi, a food scientist noted that if the government is to change the livelihood of the youth, it’s important to look into the agricultural sector; right from the producer (farmer) to the seller, post-harvest.
“Much of the food in this country is spoiled after harvest and therefore it’s important for the government to train the young people on how they could handle food after harvest,” he said.
He noted that last year, Uganda’s maize was banned in Kenya because of the way it was handled.
“When you go to Pallisa and Luwero, you find a lot of mangoes but people don’t have the knowledge of how they could add value to them. So, value addition is one of the initiatives that the government should invest in.”
He further revealed that the government has a lot of policies that are hindering the visions of young people.
“For example when you come up with a product and put in on the market, there’s lots of policies that the government has in place that kill them.”
Reagan Kiyimba, an environmentalist and fact-checker noted that there are lots of innovations by young people in Uganda in every sector; including agriculture, climate change, business, media, and others.
“But, the government is not supporting them. These people get support from outside countries,” Kiyimba said.
While financial support is key in most innovations, he said that another support could come in making laws that can help youth so that they work without any hindrance.
“For instance, climate change innovators cry for the government to help them implement a law which can help their recycling company to work and grow. The government should ensure that innovators work in a free and independent country which supports their activities as this will lead to the growth and development of the nation because innovators will do things with a lot of passion.”
But, he added, you find that some innovations stop at the ideation stage because they lack facilities, support and are treated by the laws and taxes.
He further said that the government, through the ministry of science should focus on young innovators who are doing some work.
“There are a number of climate change innovators out there who are not seen. But when you dig deep, they’re acknowledged by international organizations, rather than locally. Thus, the government should recognize these people, and put them in the spotlight,” he said.
Furthermore, in Uganda during the COVID-19 period, I have read and seen a number of Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights challenges on the increase since many of these young people in pursuit of a meal, they are forced into exchange of sex for other needs. However, as young people we believe that when the government involves us on issues of development, innovative farming techniques, we shall be able to produce food that is enough for us.
About the Author: Esther K Makula is a young journalist from Uganda working with Chimpreports, an online blog. She has a deep interest in reporting health, science and human rights. She is also passionate about SRHR stories, and is passionate about advocating for different SRHR services to reach every young person without being discriminated against.