In the spotlight

In the spotlight 1

Voices from the ground: Only a radical transformation of the food system can tackle COVID-19

The emergence, spread and devastating impacts of the COVID- 19 pandemic exacerbate existing and avertable systemic injustices. How we build, organize and govern our food systems are key in determining and shaping these injustices. Decades of neoliberal policies, reducing the role of the state and privileging a free market-led food system, have led to the dismantling of public policies and regulation, prioritized commodity exports and food corporations’ profits over small-scale producers’ livelihoods, local food systems and food sovereignty. COVID-19 is just the latest in a series of infectious diseases and crises linked to the industrial food system and it won’t be the last.

Those most deeply affected by the pandemic include women, youth, refugees and migrants, workers and small scale food producers, landless peoples, urban food insecure, and indigenous peoples. Many peoples were unable to lock down as they were dependant on daily wages, and have neither the financial reserves, nor adequate social protection or state support systems to draw on in times of crises. COVID-19 has revealed that the so-called competitiveness of the industrial agriculture model is built on high insecurity and abuse of workers, low wages and substandard working conditions as well as environmental and health risks.

COVID-19 makes the need for a transformation of the food system towards food sovereignty, agroecology, based on human rights and justice more urgent than ever. The crisis cannot be fixed by emergency measures and stimulus packages that perpetuate the same model.

Yet few Government responses were aimed at the realization of human rights or centred on the needs of marginalized communities. Official policy and financial support have mostly favoured corporations, large producers and global supply chains ensuring them the capital and work-force they need to keep operations running. Government responses were and continue to be shaped by historical economic and social disparities within and among countries. Now developing countries face a new spectre of capital flight, large loans with conditionality leading to higher debt, and impending structural adjustment policies. Grassroots reports show that official responses most often reflected siloed approaches, lack of preparedness and coordination. There was also insufficient international cooperation to address the factors leading to the emergence and devastating spread of COVID-19, as well as to respond adequately to short-term needs and long-term recovery.

Worryingly, many governments invoked emergency powers—in the name of controlling the pandemic—that allow them control over all aspects of governance and security with no democratic oversight. These powers have been used to criminalise dissent and brutally enforce unfair lockdowns.

Although governments and global institutions use the narrative of “build back better”, their policies feature more support for big corporations and pro-corporate digitalization and new technologies. In contrast, communities’ responses have fostered values of community, solidarity, resilience, sustainability and human dignity. These two approaches cannot co-exist.

Grassroots movements have clear demands, based on our evidence on what is needed for a Just Recovery from COVID- 19:

  1. Break with neoliberal approaches of the past
  2. Put Food Sovereignty into practice
  3. Reaffirm the primacy of the public sphere
  4. Strengthen Human Rights based global food governance

We call for a paradigm shift that reclaims food systems as public commons for the well-being of people and the planet, based on the centrality of human rights, that puts food sovereignty into practice, recognizes the primacy of public policies and strengthens a genuinely inclusive, democratic and coherent model of governance to realize the right to adequate food for all, now and in the future.

In the spotlight 2

Can Agroecology Stop COVID- 21, 22, and 23?

Pathogens are repeatedly emerging out of a global agrifood system rooted in inequality, labour exploitation, and the kind of unfettered extractivismthat robs communities of their natural and social resources. In response, some industry representatives propose more agricultural intensification under the guise of sparing ‘wilderness’, an approach that—in backing the agribusiness model – leads to greater deforestation and disease spillover.

Land sparing omits many peasant, Indigenous, and smallholder agricultures that are integrated within forest ecosystems and produce food and fibre for local and regional uses. Indeed, peasant and Indigenous land sharing preserves high levels of agrobiodiversityand wildlife diversity that keep deadly pathogens from spreading.

Pandemic Research for the People (PReP) is an organisation of farmers, community members, and researchers focusing on how agriculture might be reimagined to stop coronaviruses and other pathogens from emerging in the first place. We advocate for agroecology, an environmentalism of the peasantry, the poor, and Indigenous long in practice, which treats agriculture as a part of the ecology out of which humanity grows its food. A diverse agroecological matrix of farm plots, agroforestry, and grazing lands all embedded within a forest can conserve biocultural diversity, making it more difficult for zoonotic diseases to string together the line of infections that then escape onto the global travel network. Such diversity also supports the economic and social conditions of people currently tending the land.

Peasant agroecologies are more than matters of soil and food, as important as those are. Their work in stopping pandemics and other social goods arises from their broader context. Agroecologies are founded upon practical politics that place agency and power in the hands of poor and working class, Indigenous, and Black and Brown people. They replace the dynamics of ecologically (and epidemiologically) harmful forms of urbanization and agricultural industrialization operating in favour of a racial and patriarchal capitalism. They place planet and people before profits none but a few reap.