Experts at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs kept hearing from United States officials that global access to food was a growing national security concern. Those worries spurred a report from the council outlining a range of policy proposals America could adopt to ease food insecurity, including a commitment to a long-term global nutrition strategy.
Though food insecurity is driving current conflicts and migration, the authors of the new report, “Youth for Growth – Transforming Economies through Agriculture,” were looking for U.S.-led policies that can “transform entire regions, making them more prosperous, stable and secure.”
Malnutrition Deeply spoke with Alesha Black, the council’s director of the global food and agriculture program, about those recommendations and why it is critical that young people be integrated into any emerging programs.
Malnutrition Deeply: Why is it important to be talking about the link between food security and youth?
Alesha Black: We know that there are a lot of jobs to be done [by youth] in the agriculture sector, that there’s a need to expand and intensify agricultural development so that the additional jobs are added. However, there isn’t a lot of clarity about how to get to that, about what steps need to be taken in order to take advantage of this demographic shift and make it a positive shift. And there is not a lot of awareness about how agriculture realistically would be offering jobs to young people.
The nutrition component comes in when you start to think about one of the key problems facing young people and the agriculture sector – which is job preparedness and how can we make sure that young people have the skills to find employment? To be entrepreneurial if there isn’t formal employment in their environment? And to be able to take advantage of the employment opportunities that are going to exist where they are?
You very quickly get to, “Are they set up for success long before they get to the age of employment? Are they going to be at their very best physically and cognitively to participate? Are we creating healthy children and, hence, healthy young people?”
There is a fundamental investment that needs to be made now, because we’re going to have several generations in the next couple of decades and we want to make sure that young people are able to take advantage of the economy and the opportunities that present themselves. And that’s going to require this nutrition investment. That’s how those pieces came together.
Malnutrition Deeply: In terms of gaps, the gender component is also strongly highlighted in the report. Can you explain why?
Black: There is a great deal of lip service [paid] to gender, and I think there’s a great deal of attention to gender and agriculture, and gender and nutrition. It’s not always easy to do. So I think constantly making sure that the gender dynamics of different situations in households and communities – and the role that women and girls play uniquely in this inter-generational cycle of nutrition are understood – is really important.
Malnutrition Deeply: It is interesting that the report’s main recommendations are for the U.S. government. Why is that?
Black: A bit of that is the focus and tradition of where the council feels like it has a voice that is listened to and can make specific recommendations that are actionable in a moment. So the recommendations are made to the U.S. government because the U.S. is just a prominent leader in global food and nutrition security.
We want to make sure the U.S. continues to lead in this area and sees it as a priority and understands the alignment on national security and the economic interests of the U.S. and plays that leadership role.
Malnutrition Deeply: Can you explain the link between America’s role in global agriculture and nutrition and its own national security? How do you convince policymakers that it is something that they should be focusing on?
Black: There is a lot of appreciation for and resonance of that topic, from the office for the Director of National Intelligence. They approached us last year and said they would love to speak about our report because we’re identifying global food security as one of the major threats the U.S. government needs to be concerned about. They understood that there’s this link between food insecurity and civil unrest, that when food prices spike and people aren’t able to meet their needs as they relate to food and nutrition, often that leads to protests, and those protests, if they’re sustained, often have the potential to become more violent.
They were concerned about that and saw the long-term risk of that as something they wanted to make sure was understood from an analytical point of view. Members of Congress, too, want to understand what the data says about how food and security can trigger social unrest.
I think the youth shift in particular is of concern because of rising rates of migration. We now have such a large number of displaced people around the world, and I think there’s a concern about, “How do we make the places where these people are coming from good places that they want to live? Where they can have a healthy life where they can thrive?”
Because there’s a lot of interest in thinking about how to deal with large migration patterns, which I think is more of a concern in Europe right now, but is increasingly something that is being discussed here in the U.S. as well. So the link between migration and poverty, migration and high rates of food security, I think is well understood.