Pandemic Challenges the Global Food System and Brings Us Closer to Agroecology

In solidarity and commemoration of the International Day of Peasant Struggle we are publishing this piece today, highlighting the ways in which the global pandemic is bringing us closer to agroecology. We honor the memory of those who have fought for the struggle and those who are actively standing at the frontlines, demanding agrarian reform, food sovereignty, and justice. We celebrate those who are libraries of ancestral wisdom and defend their territories!

Written & Photographed by Brooke Porter

The pandemic caused by COVID-19 brings focus to the fragility of our globalized food system.⁣⁣ Industrial agriculture dangles on a thin thread, while an opportunity to transition to agroecological⁣⁣ farming practices presents itself. The global crisis highlights multiple deep-seated issues embedded⁣⁣ within the food system, including land tenure disparities, potential for disrupted supply chains,⁣⁣ exploitation of labor, and ongoing struggle for food sovereignty. The crisis compels us to challenge⁣⁣ the current food paradigm and envision a viable, resilient, and regenerative food system, rooted in⁣⁣ equity, justice, cooperativism.⁣⁣
I write from Córdoba, Argentina, where the world appears to be on pause. It feels like the whole country has taken a long “siesta” as the streets lie bare. What I thought would be a short visit with family and friends, has now lasted a month and will continue indefinitely as Argentina has shut down all national and international travel. From my window the leaves begin to change colors as a Southern cold front comes up from Patagonia and we begin to enter into fall. It is as if the Earth had planned this catastrophe to happen as we enter into a season of death and darkness, events reflect the natural world, imitating the loss of human life we are experiencing. Not only are we losing loved ones, but we stand at the brink, as capitalism itself appears to be transitioning. Then I think of the Northern Hemisphere entering into spring, could this portend a transformation and process of rebirth? Perhaps we must let die what no longer serves us or the planet, and propagate a system rooted in reciprocity. Whether this is a process of death, or rebirth, or both, the crisis catalyzed by the virus calls for radical transformation.⁣⁣
Agroecology denounces extractive industrial agriculture and promotes farming systems that work in⁣⁣ harmony with preexisting ecologies. Using science, we seek to create agricultural systems that⁣⁣ enhance biodiversity, promote closed looped systems, increase soil health, and eliminate fragile⁣⁣ dependency on external synthetic inputs. Creating a movement, we simultaneously aim to envision⁣⁣ and implement a food system that is economically viable and socially just. According to scientist⁣⁣ Alexander Wezel, agroecology arose as a modern day movement in response to the Green⁣⁣ Revolution, which promoted non-ecological, chemical intensive, and maximum yield breeding⁣⁣ strategies based on monoculture specialization. Agroecology has grown into a global movement⁣⁣ backed by peasants, farmers, and activists seeking to insure food sovereignty, agrarian reform, the⁣⁣ establishment of cooperative models, the protection of biodiversity and much more. Agroecology has⁣⁣ existed for time immemorial, without the current banner, as indigenous and peasant communities⁣⁣ have long farmed in ways that nourish both people and the land.⁣⁣
This crisis calls upon humanity to deeply connect with the essence of life. We are forced to recall⁣⁣ what is truly needed to provide sustenance, as the disguise of 21st century capitalism begins to fade.⁣⁣ The value of putting our hands in the soil, honoring that sovereignty is linked to our food and⁣⁣ medicine begins to surface, yet access to land comes with great privilege, an associated crisis that is⁣⁣ highlighted as global food prices skyrocket and grocery stores become a battle zone for germs. We⁣⁣ are seeing a surge in small gardens throughout the globe, reminiscent of war time “victory gardens”⁣⁣ or “war gardens” implemented during WWI and WWII by various countries to help supplement the⁣⁣ public food supply chain. Yet colonial legacies and systemic inequalities have barred many from⁣⁣ accessing land.⁣⁣
There is an ongoing struggle for food sovereignty within communities located in geographic areas⁣⁣ where there is lack of access to fresh food. These communities now also face increased health risks⁣⁣ when people have to travel further distances to find nourishing food, making them more exposed and⁣⁣ susceptible to the virus. In New York City community gardens have been declared to present too⁣⁣ much of a health risk, and the city has blocked residents from accessing them.⁣⁣
Food insecure nations are forced to reconcile with disrupted supply chains. Some countries such as⁣⁣ Argentina have established decrees that set price caps on certain food and hygiene products, seeking⁣⁣ to assure food security as prices rapidly rise. Kazakhstan has prohibited the export of key food⁣⁣ products in order to guarantee a domestic supply. Yet what happens to small nation states that have⁣⁣ shifted their traditionally diverse agricultural systems to meet global market demands, resulting in⁣⁣ extensive monoculture production backed by neoliberal policies? This all contributes to a lack of⁣⁣ nutritious food available locally to many citizens.⁣⁣

From fields to grocery markets, people on the fringe of society whose work has often been devalued⁣⁣ are now deemed essential frontline workers. At the same time those behind the scenes in food⁣⁣ production and distribution are bearing the brunt of this crisis as they rapidly fall ill. In the United⁣⁣ States a study by the agricultural department claims that about half of all crop laborers, more than⁣⁣ one million, are undocumented immigrants. The immigation status of these valuable workers will⁣⁣ prevent them from accessing the federal government’s $2 trillion pandemic aid package, while their⁣⁣ labor will still be considered essential.⁣⁣
In Romania Eco Ruralis, a local peasant farming association has organized a grassroot effort to⁣⁣ distribute vegetable seeds to over 3000 families, recognizing that sovereignty is linked to the⁣⁣ production of diverse and⁣⁣ nutritional food.⁣⁣
More than ever,⁣ agroecology provides a⁣ potential solution to this multifaceted crisis. Farmers who are dependent on external inputs for⁣ production now face a large threat, as industries freeze operations and supply chains are disrupted.⁣⁣ The agroecological principle of creating farms with closed-loop systems can inform a strategy that⁣⁣ turns local farms into a vital asset for providing food while promoting autonomy. At the end of the⁣⁣ day it is not the large industrial farms that are feeding the world. A study in 2019 by the United⁣⁣ Nations World Food and Agricultural Organization concluded that 80% of the world’s food is⁣⁣ produced by small family farms. The pandemic compels us to support our local economies and stand⁣⁣ in solidarity with these small farmers, ensuring their livelihoods and promoting the construction of⁣⁣ resilient bioregional food networks. It is not a time to hoard supplies, but rather to turn to our⁣⁣ neighbors and offer support. The inequalities that are surfacing have long existed within the food⁣⁣ system, but now we have a chance to dismantle these injustices and seed a movement of resistance⁣⁣ that fights for agroecology.



1 Comment

  1. Nathan
    April 20, 2020 at 7:16 pm — Reply

    Beautifully written Brooke!
    I am currently coming from a place in life where I was once destined to take over my family’s large dairy farm. I am only recently transitioning to find my own path towards regenerative practices, whether it be in agroforestry, water conservation or legeslative reforming here in the USA.
    Your article has inspired me and shows hope that many of us are waking up to the world, listening to it and helping it restore.
    As for now, I am completely lost to where my path is laid out, but your article helps clear away some of that fog. Thank you. Take care.

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