Op-Ed: How the USAID Scholars Activity is creating young change agents for sustainable food systems

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Against the backdrop of flames blazing through Greece and Turkey, floods inundating Chinese and German provinces, heat waves waging in on the western coasts of Canada and the US and extreme drought having widespread impact on the Mediterranean and Southwest Africa; the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a major report indicating “there is no scientific doubt that humans are causing climate change.” Human activity has changed the climate in unprecedented and perhaps irreversible ways.

At the same time, the UN is also celebrating International Youth Day with a view that young people can transform food systems through innovation for human and planetary life. Dr. Agnes Kalibata, Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for the Food Systems Summit stated, “We cannot implement the science without also addressing questions of access, equality and finance, and we cannot build a better future for tomorrow without including the youth of today.”

According to the 2019 Global Hunger Index, Egypt suffers from a moderate level of hunger, ranking 61 of 117 countries, compared to 61 of 119 countries in 2018. Food affordability, quality and safety remain challenges as Egypt continues to rely on global markets for more than half of its staples. Malnutrition is another growing public health concern, with a 21.4 percent stunting rate, 16 percent overweight and/or obesity rate, and 5.5 percent underweight rate of children under 5 years of age.

The USAID Scholars Activity with its strong emphasis on the water, energy and food (WEF) nexus supports combating climate change by creating change agents, problem solvers and entrepreneurs who are able to address these challenges. This ten-year USD 36 million project implemented by the American University in Cairo (AUC) addresses the aforementioned challenges through targeting 700 students over five gender balanced cohorts. These young men and women come from all 27 governorates of Egypt demonstrating financial need, exhibiting leadership potential and achieving academic merit. The program offers full academic scholarships in fee-based credit hour programs administered in the English language at seven partner universities: Cairo University; Alexandria University; Ain Shams University; Assiut University; Mansoura University; Zewail City for Science, Technology and Innovation; and the AUC.

In its first cohort of 140 scholars; 23 percent (i.e. 32 scholars coming from 17 governorates) are majoring in agriculture. Their scope of study includes dietetics, biotechnology and food processing. According to Aya Tarek, a scholar majoring in food processing at Cairo University there are four specializations in her area of study: food management and marketing, food safety, food processing and development as well as therapeutic feeding. Aya is very passionate about therapeutic feeding as it leads to several career prospects in food processing factories as well as hospitals. She is also not ruling out the possibility of starting her own nutrition center. USAID Scholars Activity has provided Aya with English language training through the AUC School of Continuing Education that has enabled her to follow her studies with ease.

While for Ehab Khater studying at Ain Shams University, he believes his major in biotechnology provides solutions to current problems for better human [and planet] life. USAID Scholars Activity has supported Ehab in bridging the gap and transitioning from school to college through the pre-academic program that provided tips on university life. He strongly believes that green biotechnology is a game changer in the current food crisis where productivity can be increased in a sustainable manner. Ehab told prospective scholars in a webinar that he has a very positive outlook for the future job market seeing opportunities in academia and research, clinical bioinformatics, pharmaceutical companies and forensics, to name a few. Specializations like genetic modification and engineering were key to the realization of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Source: USAID Scholars Activity

With more than 50 percent of USAID Scholars Activity expected to major in agriculture, energy and water on the academic front, complemented with non-academic skills enhancement programs focusing on creating awareness about the UN global goals for sustainable development; the program is feeding the future by supporting young men and women’s education, engagement, innovation and entrepreneurial solutions for the promotion of better agriculture, sustainable value chains for planet, and healthy lifestyles to realize Egypt’s Vision 2030.

[avatar user=”Amal Mowafy” size=”thumbnail” align=”left” link=”file”]Amal Mowafy (Class 93’ and 98’) is the Chief of Party of USAID Scholars Activity implemented by the American University in Cairo. [/avatar]

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