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Weathering The Climate Crisis: Will Our Food Systems Survive?

It’s no surprise that the consequences of climate change today have disrupted ecosystems across every continent, leading to the rising concern of a latent agricultural crisis in the very near future. 

At present, the volume of greenhouse gases released around the globe is at the highest levels in recorded history, leading to irreversible climate change. This creates an enormous challenge for people, especially from vulnerable developing nations, to build resilient food systems amidst a climate crisis and extreme weather events. 

To address these challenges in Sri Lanka, SLYCAN Trust, non-profit think tank working on climate change, sustainable development, and related areas, recently compiled a National Report on Youth in Food Systems. The report was compiled with consultations across all provinces, lending a platform to youth voices in food systems and contributing to the global UN Food Systems Summit process. 

The national report titled ‘Youth Engagement in Sri Lanka’s Food Systems’ summarises and synthesises findings from a series of independent national and provincial level dialogues conducted by SLYCAN Trust in August and September 2021. The dialogues covered all provinces of the country and received input from 1,101 youth between the ages of 18-35.

Roar spoke to some of the youth coordinators involved in the forum to learn how the participation of Sri Lanka’s youth can possibly slow down climate change and limit its impacts on the agricultural sector. 

Is climate change hindering traditional food practices in Sri Lanka?

Nilukshi Cooray, Programme Coordinator for the Western Province Dialogue on Youth Engagement for Climate Action and Resilient Food Systems in Sri Lanka, told Roar that a lack of adequate knowledge, deforestation, drought, and changes in rainfall threaten the existence of traditional food practices in the country. 

Cooray explained that ‘waste’ was an unknown factor in the traditional food systems as our ancestors utilised their land according to seasonality—which did not involve waste of any available resources—but we have now moved away from many traditional practices. 

According to her, sustainable consumption patterns and diets can not only improve human health but will also reduce the negative environmental impacts caused by unsustainable food systems.

A traditional plate of rice and curry in Sri Lanka

Cooray further stated that prior to engaging in the provincial consultations, she was unaware of the key food system concerns existing within the Kalutara District. She noted that the forum helped her gain a lot of knowledge regarding the importance of doing her best to create a healthy future for all.

“I have started home gardening at my place on a small scale,” Cooray said, sharing her experience. 

Speaking with Roar, District Coordinator for Central Province for the Provincial Dialogue on Youth Engagement for Climate Action and Resilient Food Systems in Sri Lanka, Shaheer Ahamed from Matale stated that the current climate change conditions have significantly impacted the food system, compromising its ability to meet the growing demand and nutritional needs of the country. Prior to attending the forum, Ahamed was focused on only a few areas, something which changed once he was made aware of the problems the community faces in various different areas. 

Ahamed is now keen to learn more about existing problems within our food systems as well as communities who are affected by these problems. He is passionate about finding both governmental or other key stakeholders who can connect with regional farmers to help them in overcoming their existing agricultural problems.

Can we build more resilient food systems without youth involvement?  

Youth can play a decisive role in conserving and protecting Sri Lanka from the upcoming agricultural crisis.

Mayantha Madurasinghe, Programme and Knowledge Management Officer at SLYCAN Trust, told Roar that the country’s youth can play a pivotal role by adapting to climate-friendly, ethical, and sustainable food practices. 

“Youth can bring unique solutions and new views to this matter. Youth may also play a vital part in outreach and communications activities, and their abilities with new media and communication tools provide them with the ability to be leaders in their communities, which could lead to building a sustainable, resilient food system in the country,” Madurasinghe explained. 

Cooray further stated that the growing curiosity, interest, and passion of youth is essential to fight climate change and build resilient food systems. 

“Since youth have the energy, power, and compassion in this regard, their words and actions will motivate the entire society. These diverse youth groups will also promote these ideas through social media to educate the younger generation too. With their interest, these youth members will initiate diverse projects to support this cause and those will have a broader impact on the general public,” she elaborated. 

However, she also stated that if the participation of youth is to be a success, they should be more aware of and interested in the subject. It is important that opportunities to gain information and education are made available to them. With this, the youth can dedicate their time, energy, and efforts towards achieving sustainability by building a resilient food system in Sri Lanka.  

Image courtesy of dtet.gov.lk

But how can the youth get involved? 

Measures should be taken to curtail the ongoing key challenges in the agricultural sector and enhance interest, knowledge, access to required resources, support, community involvement, youth participation, and awareness. 

What measures are these? 

Reflecting upon feasible solutions, Cooray spoke of the importance of awareness programmes, field visits for youth, education campaigns for school children, puzzles, essay, and poster contests for people through social media, nationwide innovative idea contests, and newspaper articles raising awareness on the issue. 

Ahamed further mentioned that there is a need to go beyond mere discussions to raise these issues directly with farmers in rural and village communities through the use of local languages, with the sole intention of equipping them with practical solutions to overcome difficulties faced by climate change. 

There is a need to conduct more follow-up sessions by providing adequate training at the local level so that representatives can organise their own sessions at the district, provincial, and institutional levels. 

Madurasinghe further highlighted that people must be capacity built and empowered to face the economic and social problems that may arise due to climate change. 

“Food systems around the world are susceptible to the impacts of climate change. Changes in weather patterns can have a negative impact on traditional food practices, which can lead to food security and nutrition issues,” he added. “It also affects the income and living standards of a large number of people engaged in these fields. It’s imperative for us to be prepared.”

As the dire effects of climate change continue to affect food security across the country, youth engagement is more vital than ever. Uplifting the youth is perhaps the most important factor in our battle to curb the rising agricultural crisis before it takes its toll on Sri Lankans as a whole.  

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