The COVID-19 crisis is a wake-up call for food security. Already stressed by climate disasters, conflicts, and pest outbreaks, the global food system is failing the world’s most vulnerable communities as they struggle to weather the pandemic. It’s time to re-orient the ways we produce and consume our food. We need to transition away from industrial agriculture towards agroecology.
Every year around this time, the United Nations releases data known as “hunger figures” – up-to-date information on how many people around the world are experiencing hunger. Here are key hunger figures from this year’s State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report:
“The world is not on track to achieve Zero Hunger by 2030. If recent trends continue, the number of people affected by hunger would surpass 840 million by 2030.”
It is alarming that, taking into account severe and moderate food insecurity, 2 billion people across the world did not have regular access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food in 2019.
The report also states: “A preliminary assessment suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic may add between 83 and 132 million people to the total number of undernourished in the world in 2020 depending on the economic growth scenario.”
In both the Global North and the Global South, the pandemic has thrown more and more people into poverty and hunger due to job loss, health problems, and stay-at-home orders. Women, who on average spend more time than men on unpaid care responsibilities, are bearing extra burdens from school closures and the suspension of public health and care services.
In response, governments have approved stimulus packages and extraordinary amounts of emergency funding. But most countries have focused on economic recovery and the procurement of personal protective equipment and grossly deprioritized food and agriculture. In many cases, policymakers are overlooking the centrality of agriculture in both perpetuating and solving the current global crises.
Before the coronavirus outbreak, many elites in the political, economic and scientific sectors underestimated the role of industrial agriculture in exacerbating climate change. And now, during the coronavirus crisis, many underestimate the role that industrial agriculture has in creating the conditions for the next viral disease.
It’s time to embrace a holistic approach to food
Knowing the destructive nature of industrial agriculture requires those of us in positions of privilege to reshape our narrative around food. More than four months into the pandemic, we have seen how localized food systems have provided many communities safe and healthy ways out of the current food crisis. At ActionAid we embrace a holistic approach to food, one that considers the social, economic and environmental dimensions of society: agroecology.
Not only has agroecology proven to mitigate climate change and build the resilience of small-scale farmers, but it also allows us to transform the food system into one that sustains all people.
To do that we need substantive investments in family farming. And we have a way forward. The Global Agriculture and Food Security Program, an innovative fund to support low-income countries to increase investment in agriculture, is the best tool to respond to the current crisis. Set up in 2010 to respond to a global food crisis, GAFSP has since supported more than 13 family farmers. With adequate funding, GAFSP can launch a call for proposals for new projects targeting farmers most impacted by the COVID-19 crisis and support their recovery.
Our demands to governments include:
- supporting agroecology
- expanding social protection measures
- funding farmer-led initiatives that connect smallholder farmers to consumers through direct local sales, door-to-door sales, local markets with physical distancing measures, independent shops, and food apps that support local producers.