COVID- 19 underlines why corporate-controlled global food supply chains must go
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the fragility of the global food supply chains that have increasingly dominated food production and distribution in both the global North and the global South. The chain is already breaking down at one of its most critical links: migrant labor. Workers are falling victim to COVID-19 owing to their being deprived of the most basic protective gear, like facemasks, and their working in crowded conditions that make a mockery of social distance rules.
But the global supply chain is not only threatened by problems at the production and processing ends, but by transportation bottlenecks, especially at key hubs, like Rosario, Argentina, owing to people’s fears that long distance transportation is a major transmitter of the virus. The 2007-2008 global food crisis should have underlined the vulnerability of corporate-controlled global supply chains but they were extended even more.
What changes to the global food system does the COVID-19 debacle urge on us? Probably the most important measure is to move food production back to more sustainable smallholder-based localized systems. In addition localized production, being less carbon-intensive, is much better for the climate than production based on supply chains.
Traditional peasant and indigenous agricultural technologies should be respected because they contain a great deal of wisdom and represent the evolution of a largely benign balance between the community and the biosphere.
It has been said that one should never let a good crisis go to waste. The silver lining of the COVID-19 crisis is the opportunity it spells for food sovereignty.
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Relocalization of food systems and agroecology, the ways forward
The COVID- 19 crisis has shown that local food systems and short supply chains have proved resilient and are better able to innovate in times of crisis as well as feed people local healthy food without being dependant on numerous links in supply chains.
The most effective initiatives to address the COVID crises have largely come from diverse organized local communities at multiple levels sometimes working with responsive government bodies and public authorities. They have mobilized and supported the distribution of food parcels, cooked meals, delivered basic necessities, health protection materials, seeds, production inputs and other livelihood supports for vulnerable families and communities in their own countries as well as in other countries and regions.
In every region, family farmers, fishers and consumer organisations have created and strengthened direct connections through community supported agriculture (CSAs), community supported fisheries, direct deliveries to households, expansion of food cooperatives and social programmes. Where possible producers have used online platforms to market their produce directly. Mutual aid schemes from soup kitchens to CSAs and community clinics have helped to plug the gaps of hunger and poverty.
Prominent proposals for systemic change demanded by these communities are agroecology and relocalization of food systems – supporting agroecological production, social economies and protection, cooperative marketing, short circuits and supply chains, and ensuring safe working environments and the adequate functioning of territorial food markets, as well as other means of provision of food produced by local, small-scale food producers, including through public procurements.