To change the world, young Costa Ricans start with a lesson in food security 

By Carl Peterson March 19, 2015

Today more than ever, young people see themselves as change agents in the world. But how can they start down the path toward making a tangible difference?

In Costa Rica, a group of school kids are discovering the power of information as a first step. Thanks to a program sponsored in part by Cargill, these students are learning about the linkages between food, agriculture, nutrition and environmental stewardship, with the goal of ending hunger in their communities.

In October 2014, Cargill teamed up with the Youth and United Nations Global Alliance (YUNGA), a program created to promote broad collaboration among U.N. agencies, civil society organizations and other partners in engaging the world’s young people on these and other topics, and empowering them to take on a greater role in society.

Working with the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization, the office of Costa Rica’s Secretary of Education and the Food Bank of Costa Rica, Cargill and YUNGA started a series of twice-weekly workshops over several months that involved five schools and immersed kids in interactive experiences about the interconnections between nutrition, hunger, food production, climate change, resource use and other issues.

A variety of lessons have addressed nutrition and food security issues, including games and activities to powerfully illustrate the reality of hunger and help students understand the root causes of malnutrition, as well as potential solutions.

Fighting food waste

A particular area of focus for the workshops has been on reducing food waste, an issue getting increasing attention as organizations work to improve the overall sustainability of the food and agriculture system so it can provide enough safe, nutritious, affordable food for all.

These goals go hand-in-hand with the U.N.’s Zero Hunger Challenge, which among other things aims for sustainability across all food systems and the elimination of food waste.

Teacher Ruth Herrera Chavarria at the Julia Fernández School in San Rafael de Alajuela said she believes the program is creating greater awareness and engagement among her students. She said she has seen them “apply what they learn in class on these issues and share it in their homes with their families.”

Sebastian, a 9-year-old student at Julia Fernández, said he has learned not to waste food, given the impact of food waste and the fact that children in some communities do not have enough to eat. “For me it is important that they teach me this, and I’ll be using it when I grow up,” he added.

The Cargill volunteers participating in the program also have benefited from the experience.

“I have learned to be more communicative, to get more involved with people and believe that I can plant a seed of awareness in people,” said Carolina Conejo Torres, who works as an auditor with Cargill’s poultry and cooked meats business in Costa Rica.

Achievements and goals

Cargill committed $20,000 to the effort and set a goal of enlisting more than 150 volunteers. So far, more than 260 students have enrolled in the Cargill-YUNGA programs. After the first series of workshops in late 2014, the partners launched a second series in February 2015.

During 2015, Cargill and YUNGA hope to continue building awareness and driving engagement among Costa Rican children and adolescents, as well as their families and communities, in the areas of food security, nutrition and environmental issues. The goal is to increase the number of enrolled students to 500 by the end of the year. The partners also are aiming to increase the quality of school meals and share information with parents to help improve nutrition in their homes.

At the end of the day, all these activities are being undertaken with the hope that more and more students will realize that they can influence the world themselves, even at a young age.

“Someday, these children will be leaders in our society. With this program, we are helping them understand that they can make a positive difference today, as well as tomorrow,” said Angie Cespedes, Cargill’s coordinator for social responsibility in Costa Rica.