Rome -- FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva lauded the planned expansion of a Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity gardening project for young Africans, saying it was part of a much-needed 'paradigm shift' to place more importance on family farming, sustainable food and agriculture systems, and the transfer of traditional knowledge from one generation to the next.
'Food gardens produce far more than simply food,' Graziano da Silva said. 'They promote inclusion, teach sustainability, and offer a space where the youth of today can meet, learn, share and build social capital,' he added, saying food gardening opened the door to 'opportunities to decent jobs and a dignified life.'
The head of the specialized United Nations agency spoke at an event in Milan where Italy-based Slow Food Foundation outlined its plans to help African youths plant ten-thousand food gardens. The project has led to the planting of one-thousand gardens so far, in more than 350 communities in 38 countries.
Graziano da Silva said the push to increase food gardening among youth in Africa was especially fitting for 2014, which is being observed as the UN's International Year of Family Farming - coordinated by FAO - and the African Year of Agriculture and Food Security.
He pointed out that two-thirds of the population of Africa is rural and 3 out of every 4 Africans were 25 years of age or younger. Roughly one-quarter of the estimated 842 million chronically hungry people in the world live in Africa.
Inclusiveness key to improving lives
'Family farming is an important path for inclusion for millions of poor rural families and communities, and are of special importance for women and for youth,' Graziano da Silva said.
'For decades, poor farmers were seen as a problem to be solved. But where, and when, people and governments have been able to give them the support they need and have understood that family farmers are, in fact, part of the solution, we have seen promising results,' he said.
The FAO chief said the promotion of local food gardens that could involve entire families and hand down traditional know-how and food culture from one generation to the next could help to 'transform the youth of today into tomorrow's leaders, protagonists of local, national and international food security and sustainable development policy- and decision-making.'
In May 2013, FAO and the international Slow Food organization agreed to develop joint actions to improve the livelihoods of smallholders and others working in rural areas.
Under a three-year Memorandum of Agreement signed here the two organizations will join forces to promote more inclusive food and agriculture systems at local, national and international levels.
'Projects such as the one that is being presented today show that it is possible to achieve sustainable food and agricultural systems if we are all committed - farmers, researchers, schools, students, nutritionists, consumers and chefs,' the Director-General said.