Losing weight, diet, lifestyle, obesity, food additives, frustration, involvement, change. These were some words that were spoken on the inaugural day of the Caribbean-Pacific Agri-Food Forum during Workshop 3, which was on “The Agriculture Nutrition Nexus and the Way Forward”. These words were all spoken in relation to youth, whether youth were experiencing these realities or evoking them. All this forum’s social media reporters have discussed amongst ourselves how multi-faceted the youth in agriculture experience is: filled with capability, opportunity, exuberance, resistance, annoyance and passion. Yet, something struck me during this workshop: we are a high-risk population, and we are also those who will lead the world down its path in a few very short years.
Our first presenter, Ms. Kelly-Ann Murphy, presented her video that won second prize in the Caribbean Science and Agriculture Film and Video Competition. Her video was entitled Food Apocalypse. It told the story of a future Caribbean region where local food was almost non-existent, imports were welcomed and celebrated, and diseases and ailments such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension, etc. were common place. It is in this context, that Kelly-Ann (who stars in the video) goes looking for heroes. Heroes, who will bring back her nation’s true agri-culture, her people’s way of eating and their genuine relationship with food. The video ends with the situation unchanged, yet with a fervent hope that those heroes will rise and rescue her people.
It is that same fervent hope that lies in youth today. It causes us to be brash, loud, and passionate about our country, our people and most importantly, change for better.
Change through research and technology
Because of her research for the creation of her video, she learned about food additives, chemicals, added fats, etc. and decided to change the way she ate and become more active. In doing so, she lost sixty-three pounds, a major achievement. Many of us watching couldn’t believe that we were watching her in the video (the video was shot before she lost the weight). She is now very conscious of all the food she and her loved ones eat. As she was sharing this experience with me, she mentioned this often-recited quote that resonates with her in relation to her experience. And that, I think is very applicable in terms of the change youth in agriculture want to bring about: “A mind once stretched by a new idea, can never return to its original state”.
Nutritional challenges in the Caribbean
This triumph and inspiration was placed in stark contrast with Mrs. Christine Bocage’s presentation. Mrs. Bocage is a Senior Technical Officer of Food Security and Nutrition at Caribbean Public Health Agency. Mrs. Bocage spoke to the nutritional challenges facing the Caribbean, and from her presentation I noted that children and adolescents are the most at risk group within our population. In many countries, iron deficiency anaemia is about 30%. In Jamaica, 50.4% of children between ages 1 and 4 and 17% of adolescents between ages 7 and 16 were vitamin E deficient. Alarmingly, childhood obesity in children less than 5 years doubled in the past decade, and adolescent obesity is has increased by 14% and is still rising.
After elaborating on the situation in detail, Mrs. Bocage spoke of programmes being implemented in several countries across the Caribbean that will aim to bring reform to school lunch programmes and eating habits of children and adolescents across the region.
As it was said later during the workshop ‘If we want children to choose healthily, we must create an environment that accommodates healthy choices.’
It is a very real and urgent issue that the next generation of leaders is at risk of not being able to truly lead, because they would be physically incapable, mentally unengaged and misinformed, or culturally maladjusted.
The platform is set for the way forward
The truth of the matter is that many youth are disillusioned by what they see as the lack of opportunities existing in the Caribbean region. However, there are also many youth who have determined to make opportunities, and use those opportunities for change where they see very little chance of opportunity. We have within us the seeds and seedlings of leadership and vision. These two presentations from Workshop 3 demonstrate how those seedlings can grow to the light or be quickly snuffed out by rot and malnutrition.
As it stands, the future of all our regions, African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP), is in the hands of every able-bodied person, youth or elder. We have the chance to make a better world for the leaders of tomorrow, to build for them a legacy of health and prosperity and to secure them from decay and disease. I am encouraged to see, through presentations from this forum, that different agencies across all our regions are involved in ways to provide that security. I look forward to this work progressing even more rapidly, with even more input from young passionate leaders and most importantly, with measureable results and success.
How do you think your country could remove risk of food/diet – related disease and death from youth populations and empower them to be the leaders of tomorrow? Are there initiatives that do this thin your country? Tell us in the comments below! And follow #CPAF15 and #Intra_APP for the latest Caribbean-Pacific Agri-Food Forum updates.
Photo credit: Georgina Smith/ CIAT
Blogpost by Chelsea Wallace, Social Reporter for the Caribbean-Pacific Agri-Food Forum 2015.