The pandemic is a symptom of the global industrial farming system, which pushes ever further into virgin forests to claim land for agriculture, creating conditions that increase the likelihood of novel viruses spreading. In turn, this system exacerbates the other climate, ecological, economic and health emergencies we face. Is COVID-19 a threat to our ability to address these other critical issues, or is in an opportunity to put them at the heart of plans to ‘build back better’?
If the goal of the food system is to create efficiency and short-term profit, then ‘building back better’ requires deeper efficiencies and bigger profits, which entrenches the other crises we face. Instead, we need to redefine the food system’s goals, taking a systems-wide approach to the problems by focusing on people, farming with nature (agroecology), and values that protect the vulnerable, give voice to the voiceless and strengthen communities. This will help us address those other crises of human and ecological health and wellbeing.
We need to strengthen understanding of the connections between planetary, economic and human health, and champion approaches like agroecology that drive multiple benefits in multiple systems. Agroecology needs to scale up across our food systems through institutional, financial, policy and legal support. It must scale out by replicating agroecological practices across increasing numbers of farms, and scale deep by helping people change their mindsets and values in a lasting way.
We must also continue to build resilient communities. Community responses to COVID-19 have shown that people really understand what it means to support each other. This is a strong foundation on which to build a sustainable food system, and to tackle the climate, ecological, health and economic emergencies at a hyper-local level.
At its heart, the COVID-19 crisis is a human story of loss, suffering, endeavour and resilience. But so too are the other crises we’re facing. The fundamental point we all need to understand is that we have values, freedom of choice and the power to act on them.
Food citizenship is central to helping us harness that power, so that we can – collectively – shape the future of food and farming. We can collaborate on developing a national participatory food policy (like the UK’s People’s Food Policy), and on giving time and skills to community growing and eating schemes. It can even be about getting together with likeminded people and participating in food buying initiatives where traceability, fairness and agroecology are at the heart of their produce.
This summary draws heavily on a report of the event, written by the Food Ethics Council. The full report is available here.