Making food systems crisis proof
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The corona pandemic has brought the global food system to the brink of collapse. How it could have come to this and the lessons learned from this have been compiled by International sustainability experts.
The poorest countries and people have suffered the most from the impacts of curfews and economic shutdown in the corona crisis. Children whose only meal of the day were school meals; daily wage earners who didn’t earn anything and could no longer buy food; countries that can no longer import basic food. "The Corona crisis has highlighted the weaknesses, inequalities and injustices in health and food systems," says a report by International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES). Measures taken to mitigate the crisis should therefore rebuild food systems to strengthen resilience at all levels. A return to "business as usual" should not be allowed, the IPES experts warn.
Industrial food systems have become obsolete
Examples of positive responses to the crisis mentioned include the sudden interest and solidarity with farming in several countries and the free community kitchens set up by the Indian state of Kerala together with women’s groups. Also, the fact that companies like Unilever have suddenly brought forward payments to suppliers instead of delaying them until the last possible day, is also seen as progress. At the same time, however, they also list how food and agricultural industries are trying to sabotage upcoming regulations for environmental and consumer protection on account of the Corona crisis. "Industrial food systems are now being presented as the solution, despite their role as drivers of poverty and insecurity, climate change and destruction of ecosystems" the IPES report says. The report recommends four strategies to make food systems more resilient to crises:
Lessons from the crisis
Take immediate action to help the most vulnerable population groups. This should not only include food programmes, but also to ensure safe working conditions for agricultural workers, better hygiene conditions for small markets and aid programmes for people in slums.
Set up crisis-proof agro-ecological food systems.
From the IPES perspective, the advantages are as follows: These systems reduce dependence on mostly imported fertilizers and pesticides. Their short supply chains are less susceptible to crises and strengthen farmers and local communities. Regional plant cultivation and animal breeding reduces vulnerability to disease.
A new pact is needed between state and society to rebalance economic power and overall common good.
The crisis has shown that governments can take drastic measures to protect the people. At the same time however, they are dependent on the support of civil society for implementation. In particular, village organisations, farmers' groups and cooperatives have proven to be effective buffers against the effects of the crisis, writes IPES, arguing for a public-interest oriented administration that involves civil society.
Also, the billions in economic aid should not simply be used to rescue businesses and boost demand. "The opportunity must not be missed to use this money to transform the economy," the report says. It demands legislation to correct market failures, to prevent monopolies and further concentration processes and ensure that food companies pay the negative social and environmental costs of their business.
Reform the international food security organisation.
In this context, IPES recommends strengthening the UN Committee on World Food Security and making the role of agriculture even stronger in the talks at climate and biodiversity conventions.
COVID-19 and the crisis in food systems:
Symptoms, causes, and potential solutions
Communiqué by IPES-Food, April 2020
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