Global grassroots organisations demand radical transformation of food systems to tackle the impacts of COVID-19

The COVID-19 food crisis is closely linked to economic, social, gender and environmental injustices of free-market neoliberalism, says a report launched today by the largest international space of grassroots organizations and Indigenous Peoples working to eradicate food insecurity and malnutrition. The crisis will not be fixed by emergency measures or stimulus packages that perpetuate the same model, but only by a human rights-compliant radical transformation of food systems.

Between 83 and 180 million more people could be pushed into hunger because of the pandemic, raising the overall number of food insecure people to over 2 billion. Bold actions are required to reverse this trend. Promoting food as a commodity is no longer an option, given the catastrophic impact of industrial agriculture and livestock on people and ecosystems. Food sovereignty is the only solution to this crisis. It guarantees the right to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and the right of people to define their own food and agriculture systems.

The report shows that the most effective initiatives to address the COVID-19 food crises have come from community efforts – to prevent contagion, protect workers (especially migrants), ensure food and economic security, halt evictions and land grabbing. Despite official recognition that 70 – 80% of the world is fed by small-scale food producers and local food systems, most COVID-19 policies, financial support and economic stimulus packages continue to favour the corporate agro-industrial complex and global supply chains. Small-scale food producers, workers, Indigenous Peoples, the urban food insecure and landless peoples, particularly women, are among the worst affected by the pandemic. Their health, livelihoods, safety and secure access to resources are least protected from against poverty, discrimination and violence. In addition, the report exposes how ecosystem destruction caused by industrial food chains is closely linked to the rise of pathogens such as COVID-19.

Rather than promoting an intensive, export-oriented agriculture that perpetuates inequality, human rights abuses and the climate crisis, the report urges States to encourage agroecology, which offers healthy and nutritious food, while also preserving the environment. The COVID-19 pandemic presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to accelerate the agroecological transition and reverse decades of neoliberal policies that have exacerbated inequalities and led to official neglect of the public realm integral to building robust health and welfare, and sustainable food systems.

In addition, it is high time for development priorities to be redefined in accordance with gender justice and the demands of the youth as the future guardians of food systems, the report states. Public action must prioritize the future health of people and planet, end structural discrimination, and redistribute the social reproductive and care work carried out predominantly by women.

The report is published ahead of a virtual meeting of the United Nations Committee on World Food Security (CFS) where Governments will discuss how to transform global food systems and tackle the impacts of COVID-19.

The report finds serious gaps in global coordination to address what is the worst food crisis is over a decade and that few State responses so far have centered on the realization of human rights, or the needs of vulnerable and marginalized communities. There have been abuses of emergency powers and an increase in the criminalisation of Human Rights Defenders, while environmental and labour regulations have been weakened.

Yet, a few governments’ initiatives have shown it is possible to support the most vulnerable by providing shelter for the homeless, universal basic incomes or cash transfers within weeks.

The CFS has the mandate and capacity to address the fragilities of the world’s food system which COVID-19 has drawn dramatic attention to. The voices raised in the report urgently call on it and on States to do so.

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The report was prepared by the Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism (CSM) for relations with the UN Committee on World Food Security and includes voices of small-scale food producers, Indigenous Peoples, workers, landless peoples, urban food insecure, consumers, women and youth.

For media inquiries, contact marion.girard.cisneros@csm4cfs.org