The shock caused by the Coronavirus pandemic turns out to be unprecedented in magnitude and seems to be growing day after day as record disruptions are witnessed.
These disruptions affect the agriculture and food sector and raise concerns about global food security, while highlighting the structural weaknesses of food systems – these rules and methods of organization that should guarantee food and nutritional security for the population.
Such situation highlights the urgent need to make these systems more resilient, more sustainable. This need is a matter of direct concern to Agrisud teams.
Agrisud: a privileged witness to changes
Thanks to a geographic coverage in around fifteen countries, Agrisud teams benefit from an unique position to observe those changes in a wide variety of situations.
By collecting information directly from the field, it is possible to produce a risk analysis of disruptions in food systems caused by the pandemic. These risks can also be opposed to what Agrisud considers as resilience factors which are implemented through its various projects.
Differently impacted food systems
The infographic below represents, in a non-exhaustive manner, disturbance risks that can be generated by the crisis to food systems. All these risks do not occur in the same way depending on the contexts and can be influenced by several factors. Among other things, they heavily depend on the initial food systems organization, with their strengths and weaknesses. They also depend on the intensity of the pandemic, the reactions and adaptation of the population, the measures taken (travel restrictions, border closures, lockdown…) and the evolution of these measures over time.
These risks have impacts upstream of the agricultural production, as well as on the production itself and downstream.
Although it seems to be spared for now, production can be threatened by the reduction of working hours in the farms.
Upstream, the collapse of logistic chains disrupts access to inputs. Travel restrictions and fear of the disease can limit the availability of labor when it is external; conversely, it can increase when it is family labor. In some cases, agricultural production benefits from the return of workforce coming from other sectors affected by the recession. Difficult access to production factors could cause, in the long run, a rise in production costs and a decrease in produced quantities.
Downstream, the marketing channels are also disrupted. Farming families find it more difficult to sell their products because local markets have closed or take place less frequently. At the same time, some products becoming scarce – or subjects of speculation – can be more expensive within consumption areas.
The consumers directly suffer from these effects. The availability of products is also impeded by disruptions in import channels. The purchasing power of some has been reduced due to the decrease or loss of revenue. Consequently, consumers favor cheaper, less diversified and often less nutritious products. The population’s food and nutritional security is threatened.
Food system vulnerability, the accumulation of woes
These risks have an economic impact on all actors, especially farming families and consumers, deepening inequalities further.
Some countries are more vulnerable than others, due to recurrent crises (such as climate crises) and deeper structural problems: political instability, poverty, high food dependency… This crisis shows the vulnerability of food systems.
If, in the short run, immediate measures to protect the most vulnerable people and to reduce the effects of the pandemic are necessary, structural measures to adapt food systems are essential.
Family farming, the backbone of sustainable food systems
In countries where Agrisud operates as well as in other countries, many initiatives are developed to improve resilience of the food systems. This crisis brings its share of innovations and can in turn speed up the pace of change.
Because family farming represents more than 70% of global food production alone, strengthening its resilience must be the priority. Thus, family farming could meet the major part of local food needs.
Resilience involves sustainable production and trading systems, both on a farm scale and on a territory scale.
Agroecological family farming, proper integration of the farms in value chains and local markets, effective interaction of the stakeholders through a “territory” approach participate in such resilience and clearly appear as credible options to address the issues of food security and sovereignty.
Agroecology, a key factor of resilience
The advantage of agroecology is that it reduces dependence on production factors. Farms with limited needs in external inputs become less vulnerable to disruptions in the logistic chains. Likewise, some cultivation practices reduce the dependence on external workforce. Agroecology favors diversification and intensification of cultivation and livestock farming systems by rebalancing them and by producing more and better on small areas. It secures production cycles by reducing risks and by optimizing the efficiency of production factors.
Agroecology thus improves the ability to produce in quantity, diversity, quality and regularity while reducing the risks related to external dependency and hazards. .
A necessary economic integration
Management advising allows the farms to adapt their cultivation and livestock farming systems to the market demand and to guarantee that their production is sold.
Diversification of marketing channels is favored to reduce the risks of collapse of one or several channels. When the production is adapted to the territories’ needs and potentials, the incoming and outcoming trade flows are limited. Thus, the effects of disruption in the logistic chains are reduced, such as local markets glutted by products usually exported from the territory, or a rise in prices of imported products. Other territories’ or overseas’ import channels are not necessarily excluded, if trade relations occur in the interests of everyone.
By adapting production to local demand and by diversifying marketing channels, the disruption risks are reduced, and the supply of local markets is further secured.
Stakeholders mobilization: facing shared challenges together
Ensuring a balanced use of the territory’s resources and stakeholder collaboration lead to sustainable food systems, while limiting the imbalance between rural and urban areas and considering the interdependence of economic, social, sanitary and environmental issues.
As part of this “territory” approach, the development of local professional services reduces the risks of limited access to services, inputs or workforce. Processing of products on the local scale may limit the loss of perishable products. Knowledge development, and especially consumer awareness-raising, is a major issue as well to promote local and agroecological productions.
Building and empowering networks of stakeholders (decision-makers, technicians, tradesmen, business owners, farmers, consumers…) who mobilize the local resources according to their responsibilities, give the territory the best chances to become resilient: territorialized food systems will thus be favored.
The crisis, a catalyst for the agroecological transition
Local agroecological family farming, which is well integrated in its territory’s value chains and markets, can meet the population’s food needs while preserving the environment and supporting the local economy. It is the basis of sustainable local food systems. It contributes to supporting the economic dynamics, embracing all actors, and sharing the value created in the territory. It generates numerous benefits regarding climate and natural resources, the fight against poverty and food security.
A transition to this agriculture is more than ever needed, and this health crisis context could be its driving force.
The imminent reactions of the States and funders will be determining. In some countries, there is reason to fear budget arbitrations which are unfavorable to this type of agriculture because it is easier to come back to old patterns, regardless of negative consequences and weaknesses. It would amplify the negative consequences of the crisis on agriculture and food security. Likewise, strategies for rapid revival of the production based on agro-industrial models or models relying on massive imports, would weaken the local production pattern.
The good news is that the agroecological transition is already at work in many places, even though it struggles to take its true dimension because of the disruptions in practices and public policies it involves.
Now it is everywhere at the heart of international discussions about the future of agricultural and food systems in the world. In the aftermath of this crisis, it will have to be considered more than ever before.
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 Haiti, Brazil, Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Morocco, São Tomé e Príncipe, Gabon, Mauritius, Madagascar, China, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia (Bali).