Ladies and gentlemen,
Good afternoon to you All!
I am indeed honored to be addressing this important gathering here today on behalf of myself as well as on behalf of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, known more generally as FAO. We appreciate being invited to be a part of this Asia Pacific Model United Nations Conference and to also be one of its co-sponsors.
It is good to see the positive response of so many young people here today, I am told some 400 or so of you from some 46 countries in our Asia-Pacific region and beyond.
The focus of the conference to exposing you to the objectives and workings of the United Nations we hope will not only provide understanding and knowledge but also promote and motivate you as individuals and as groups to contribute at different levels in promoting and being engaged in making our world a better place. Such is in line with the vision and mission of the UN. In the case of FAO, its specific vision can be defined as ending hunger and improving human nutrition and in making the transition to sustainable agricultural and food systems. Thus our mission is to eliminate poverty and hunger including improving their nutrition as is currently faced by almost 578 million people or 62 percent of the world’s undernourished population who live in our region.
The organizers have assigned me the topic of addressing “the role of youth in the process of development”.
Youth, as defined by the United Nations, refer to those young men and women between the ages of 15 to 24 although we know definitions of youth vary between countries. What is important here, however, is a specific target to young men and women of a certain age group who generally share similar unique characteristics.
Youth, although not a homogenous group, are generally characterized as those in a period of their lives where they are attending school and are pursuing an education like many of you present here today. In such they are most often supported by their parents or on scholarships or even being self funded. As a group, they are generally with good knowledge as well as being informed with world views quite well developed and, nowadays, through their access to technology, especially IT technologies, are thus well connected and are more aware and are potentially well informed. They are also generally motivated to do well in their endeavors, be it school or at work including in sports and other endeavors, so as to enable their meeting their aspirations which, research has shown, relates very much to them wanting to acquire high paying jobs but often where they still lack experience compared to their older compatriots.
Here-in lies the potential of youth to contribute and to be involved in development processes and programmes.
So what then can we say is the role of youth in development especially in our Asia-Pacific context? Such a question can be examined from different perspectives as different people and bodies have different expectations and views about youth.
From the perspective of a government, youth is generally “viewed as the future leaders” who need to be guided through education and services to prepare them for future leadership roles and to supply and meet the manpower needs of the machinery of government and private enterprizes etc. Such a position tends to view youths as passive recipients of all things as per government’s design. In the modern context of today, youth tend to react negatively to such as it is somewhat top down. They view a need to be more involved and to have a voice in decisions that affect them!
From the perspective of a community, youth are expected to serve the community’s welfare and manpower needs from social, cultural, religious, and economic and community needs. As part of local, provincial, regional and national communities, youth have such obligations assigned and expected of them.
In our Asia-Pacific context, the role and perspectives of religion, churches and religious leaders and ideologies are also important influencing forces on youth. Here the notion of youth being obedient and being of service to God, to Buddah, the Phrophet and the Divine is foremost including that of caring for thy neighbor, for country and for mankind are principles of living youths are brought up to follow.
A most important perspective guiding youths is that of their parents for it is they who emphasize all the different perspectives to ensure youth do good for all categories of people and needs. The importance of home and community socialization and that of education is emphasized and service to country, to religion and to the family as well as to ones community are paramount. Youth as economic supporters through income generation contributions or through their support through the provision of their labor to meet family needs provides both motivation or, in some cases, hardship and even negative consequences.
Central to all perspectives is that relating to what youths think about and for themselves. What do you here today view about yourself and your role in society and in development? The notion of “who am I” and “what I want to make of me or for me” are central questions. These relate to many factors including ones character, ones aspirations, ones motivation and also ones determination.
Of course times are changing given the increasing urbanization everywhere and the associated individualism.
I am sure this meeting will touch upon all these different perspectives and also opportunities and roles youth can play within each.
Suffice here to say that all perspectives are relevant and they need to be taken into consideration when addressing the role of youth.
We at the United Nations believe that youths have very important roles to play in development in different capacities both as important stakeholders and contributors as well as beneficiaries of development efforts.
In this regard, the United Nations is committed to such efforts where even the UN Secretary-General Mr Ban Ki-moon, has included attention to young people as one of his Five-Year Action Agenda for UN attention globally. Currently, the UN has a programme known as the World Programme of Action for Youth which guides the UN agenda related to youth. Some 15 priority areas or fields of action have been identified by the international community for attention and include education, employment, hunger and poverty, health, environment, substance abuse, juvenile justice, leisure-time activities, girls and young women and the full and effective participation of youth in the life of society and in decision-making, as well as globalization, information and communication technologies, HIV/AIDS, armed conflict, and intergenerational issues. In all of these, you the youth can play a role!
In Thailand, we have a UN Asia-Pacific Interagency Group on Youth that meets regularly to discuss and plan implementation of projects and activities addressing youth concerns. Two recent activities of note include the publication in 2011 of a guide titled “Investing in Youth Policy” which drew on lessons from good practices to advance policy development for young people in the Asia-Pacific region. The other was a “Knockout debate on youth and Rio Plus 20” which was part of the commemoration of World Youth Day 2012. Both had active youth involvement and generated useful suggestions and recommendations for follow up and for youth action.
At FAO, we have had long association and attention especially to rural youth given the important role they play in agriculture and food security. The big challenge faced nowadays, however, is the need for a new generation of young replacement farmers given the graying population of farmers in many countries in our region as well as the choice of youth for occupations away from agriculture and farming. This aside, we are convinced and know that youths still do and can play direct or indirect roles in agriculture and rural development. Given the complexities of today’s world where multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary generated solutions are needed and where a mix of traditional knowledge and skills together with scientifically based ones that is supported by having relevant and timely availability of information that is available from multiple sources using multiple technologies is needed – youth can play important roles from different perspectives and capacities to address agriculture and rural development’s many challenges as well as for harnessing available opportunities.
I wish you a successful conference and hope that you will take back to your countries and institutions the lessons and the knowledge and skills gained from this conference to share and to “light small fires” for new beginnings to address the many challenges related to poverty and hunger through youth lead and youth supported programs and actions. Together we can make it happen!
Thank you for your attention!