On April 23rd, 2020 we held our inaugural webinar on Food Solutions for the Covid19 Crisis and Beyond to discuss the interlinkages between food systems, the coronavirus pandemic and climate emergency, and learn from innovative community food solutions. Speakers included: Anuradha Mital, Oakland Institute; Nori Ignacio, Southeast Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment, Andrew Mushita, Community Technology Development Trust; Alejandro Argumedo, Swift Foundation and Marissa Nuvayestewa, Colorado Plateau Foundation. Here are our reflections and a summary of the conversation:

In the face of a crisis, a pandemic, one’s focus returns to the basics – food.

It is viscerally clear the COVID-19 pandemic is a health crisis that, like the climate crisis, is a manifestation of injustices compounded into every entwined system of globalization’s illogic “market logic” – i.e. growing the same crop for export that one imports from elsewhere, acidifying the ocean with pesticide run-off, forcing people into slave labor to make commodity scale harvests. Focusing on the re-localization of food systems at this moment is critical, because the quality and quantity of the food is essential to both immunity resilience and self reliance.

We heard from Anuradha the extreme dangers of corporate agribusiness take over – amplified by this crisis. And Andrew who spoke about the push for high tech farming, resulting in damaged soil health, declining yields, all of which leads to increased food aid rather than local production. Both highlighted the ongoing threat of land grabs. The problem therefore is rooted in the very structure and rationality of the global food system, where giant agribusiness and resource extraction corporations have now reached the last intact forests and smallholder-held farmlands in the world, subordinating them to capitalist markets. This disruption of ecosystems is directly linked to causing novel viruses and pathogens to escape their natural hosts and habitat, and transfer to humans.(1)

Loss of biocultural diversity and complexity, amplified by global warming, has intensified the multi-faceted crises we face. In the words of Marissa Nuvayestewa, “Agribusiness and extractive industries are the new wave of westward expansion.” For many communties this crisis goes back to the impacts of colonialism. Marissa also reminded us how language affects food behaviours and food values thus plays a crucial role in food security and sovereignty. People are reviving knowledge of harvesting wild edible plants, growing food, and ceremonial care of water – knowledge that is passed down through Native languages. Nori spoke about how local systems can be rebuilt, and the importance of allowing small holders to organize themselves and their seed systems, as well as enhance the local capacities of women and youth.

The organizations represented on this webinar have all worked, in one way or another, towards local and biodiverse food solutions in spite of harassment and structural disenfranchisement from governments and global corporations. From indigenous land management approaches in the Potato Park in Peru; farming collectives in Zimbawe enhancing the local capacities of women and youth; farmers in the Phillipines ensuring nutritious foods for all; to indigenous communities and organizations across the Colorado Plateau returning to and reviving traditional knowledge of farming and water keeping. All of which emphasize communal principles of reciprocity, solidarity and balance; the importance of highly diverse and nutritious diets in nurturing stronger immunity and resilience; and water and food as ceremony, as medicine.

Communities that are leading food aid, providing critical relief for the most vulnerable, and rebuilding the local food system need our support. In addition to responding to this moment, we must also support the ongoing fights to stop land grabs from foreign entities and corporate interests. Regaining local control of food production for small scale farmers is at the heart of global food security. Alejandro spoke about how after many years of neglecting small farmers, governments in the Andes region are realizing that the global food system has made them highly insecure and that they need the support from farmers and Indigenous people.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation has predicted that 265 million people may experience severe food insecurity by the end of 2020 unless urgent action is taken. The current system has made us highly food insecure and we to need to return to the basics by relocalizing the food system now, otherwise COVID-19 and future pandemics will only be amplified.

We thank Oakland Institute, SEARICE (Philippines), CTDT (Zimbabwe) and the Colorado Plateau Foundation for sharing your deep experiences.  It is viscerally clear that your work, as well as those of many other frontline organizations, are shining examples of sanity. We appreciate your courageous advocacy work on behalf of communities fighting to protect their homelands, seeds, herds, rivers, and gardens. One way or another, your collective commitment to the land is a commitment to health, to a future for all our children.

Sonja Swift & Alejandro Argumedo