Director-General  QU Dongyu
A statement by FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu
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Speech at the World Youth Forum 2019 panel discussion

Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt 

15 December 2019

Let me at the outset pay tribute to H.E President Al-Sisi and to the Egyptian Government for its relentless efforts to put youth at the forefront of the global, regional and national agendas. I am so happy to be here. It is my first participation at this forum. By age I am not that young, but psychologically I am still very, very young.

I am impressed by the positive energy, enthusiasm and determination present in this forum. I am very happy to be with you today and to be able to count on both the young women and men here and on your Excellencies, Presidents, Heads of State and Government, Ministers and Ambassadors and all the civil societies, our partners in ensuring a world free from hunger, malnutrition and poverty.

Excellencies, dear colleagues, friends

We live in challenging times.

After decades of decline, hunger is on the rise again for the third year in a row. Historically we made an achievement, but recently it has been more and more challenging.

According to FAO’s latest estimates, some 821 million people are undernourished today. We have 2 billion people overweight or suffering from non-communicable diseases.

The food security situation in Africa and the Near East is worse today than it was at the beginning of the decade. This is a significant setback.

At the same time, overweight and obesity is a serious international challenge.

If we do not act promptly and decisively now, there is a very real possibility that SDG2, “End hunger, achieve food security and nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture,” will not be achieved by 2030. We only have 10 years to run. Ten years is a very short period.

And let’s be clear, if SDG2 is not achieved, the whole SDG agenda is at risk. Especially for this continent. How does this link with the World Youth Forum? Now you are 20 years old. 10 years later you will be 30. We will be out of history.

The answer is clear, we need the energy and potential of the youth to achieve rural transformation through agro-food and related activities.

Africa is our future. Every sector in Africa is full of potential, especially agriculture, food, you name it. Comparing the population and potential natural resources, you have much more potential than Asia where I am from.

Furthermore, the young generation of today may be the first generation to live in a planet profoundly transformed by climate change. That’s another big issue, especially in Africa, in the Sahel region, and Middle East, regions where the problems of drought, water scarcity and others may be first potentiated by the climate change.

In addition, dietary patterns of adolescents and youth are increasingly becoming unhealthy. Everyone depends on snack food, fast food. So one bit of advice, I have been cooking for more than 35 years on my own and for my family. That’s one life-long skill that you and your family can benefit from.

On top of all of this, we have conflicts that have already taken the lives of so many young girls and boys and are compromising the future of millions more. That’s a reality especially in this region with conflicts in Yemen, Somalia, Syria and others.

We must not be discouraged by the magnitude of these challenges. Solution is more than challenge if you think in a positive way. You’re young, you should be more optimistic than the senior people who suffered a lot during their hard life.

In Africa, parts of the Near East and other parts of the world, agriculture productivity is still too low and there is a lot of room to be improved by innovation and new technology application.

Today, most youth in Africa do not have stable jobs or income opportunities. I understand why President Al-Sisi is so engaged with the World Youth Forum. They want to draw attention to all the sectors and civil societies globally, regionally, nationally to pay attention to the needs and demands of the younger generation. But no matter what happens, the future is in your hands. We, sooner or later, will be fading out of this planet.

So what is a solution for you? You have to offer your own solution under your own investigation. I don’t have a solution for you. But we will work collectively. I think the first opportunity is digital, the digital world is coming. In your hand, you get all the information. Second, innovation. Third, the politicians need to take care of you and establish more enabling policies.

Food production is one issue, and consumption pattern is another issue. And then we can learn from your indigenous knowledge and family values and so on. Don’t forget your roots, original aspirations and where you come from. Each country, not only in this country. You enjoy 7,000 years of civilization. You have to learn from your long history and appreciate your civilization. Not forget your real Egyptian civilization to carry on for generations to come.

Currently, we find that investments are very important, but not so important if you do not change your mindset. Young people should change their mindset.

We need also to accelerate agriculture transformation by embracing digital agriculture, and more importantly also get all the young politicians to appreciate the food system that we created for all the citizens. More and more people are migrating to cities. By 2030 probably there will be more than 70% of people living in cities. But even if you are living in the city, you depend on the rural. That is the balance and harmony we would like to create.

As FAO DG, I recently launched the Hand-in-Hand initiative. We wanted to create a partnership between donor countries and recipient countries to help the most vulnerable people in vulnerable regions. Then we can build up the real global value chain. We can share knowledge, the market, and innovation. The Hand-in-Hand initiative is in your hands because you are young.

I hope after 2030 we don’t need help because the world has a sustainable way to supply food. That is real strategic thinking.

This is why I have established FAO’s first ever Youth Committee. We wanted to have a closer cooperation with you, with the Egyptian government, with the World Youth Forum and with other Member Countries to help young people have brighter future with enabling policies and consultation.

Let’s work together, learn together, and contribute together to build a dynamic FAO for a better world.

Thank you.

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