The COVID19 crisis is rapidly expanding and deepening, highlighting and exacerbating existing inequalities including wealth, health, race and gender. In many countries it will develop into a deep social and economic crisis where the most vulnerable will again suffer the most – with no access to healthcare, losing their jobs and incomes, electricity and water being cut off as people cannot pay the bills anymore and many evictions where rent can no longer be paid. In many regions, a major food crisis is also looming as people will be no longer be able to pay for food.
Local markets are being closed and peasants, livestock keepers, animal breeders, shepherds and fisherfolk are often not allowed to get their products to consumers, even if community-supported agriculture and other direct selling methods seems to be an exception in some regions. Due to severe and sometimes brutally imposed lockdowns, fisherfolk may not be allowed to go out fishing and sell their catch, pastoralists cannot sell their products and farmers and farmworkers cannot do the crucially important work on their fields to secure products for consumption. In many countries, the migrant workers on which farmers often depend are not able to travel. Food will be left to rot in the fields in spite of the hugely increased demand for healthy local food.
We condemn the brutality on peasants, migrant and agricultural workers and on the poor and vulnerable that is taking place in certain countries. We demand governments to take greater care in dealing with this crisis and not impose brutal force on people.
In many countries, priority is being given to large scale corporate food enterprises who are demonstrating that their model of just in time delivery relying on low paid, insecure often migrant labour cannot keep food on the shelves in times of crisis.
This crisis is deepening and we will continue to stand in full solidarity with those that will be hit hard if we fail to act collectively: indigenous peoples, food and agricultural workers (many of whom are migrants), small-scale food producers including peasants, fisherfolk and mobile pastoralists, migrants, refugees, people living in areas of war and conflict, rural and urban poor, people without access to public health systems and especially people living without access to clean running water, food and sanitation and without possibilities to avoid infection.
Solidarity across movements and borders is key and we have to build our collective response to this crisis, organizing our communities, mobilizing our organizations to take initiative, give direction and demand that our governments channel resources to those that need them most. They also have to organize free access to water, food, housing and health services for all, guarantee no evictions, and ensure small-scale food production and distribution to local consumers as a crucial and indispensable activity that needs to be prioritized to ensure the right to healthy, nutritious food.
As small-scale food producers and consumers and other social movements and NGOs, we are aware of the importance of stopping the transmission of the virus. In several countries, our organizations are disseminating recommendations on how to protect ourselves and avoid transmission. We will find appropriate ways to transfer healthy foods through open-air markets, direct sales and other channels for consumers, schoolchildren, hospitals and care homes. We are building local solidarity committees to ensure access to food for homeless people, unemployed workers and the most vulnerable sectors of the population.
The High-Level Panel of Experts of Food Security and Nutrition of the UN Committee on World Food Security has recently recommended that all governments have to “support local communities and citizens to increase local food production (including home and community gardens) through appropriate stimulus packages (in cash and kind) to enhance food resilience”. All governments should also ensure and support the functioning of local markets and direct sales with the new norms for protection for all persons involved, making sure that essential food supplies are not disrupted. Governments should also strengthen decentralized and mobile public procurement programs that can guarantee sales for small scale producers and make food available for those that need it. Existing public programs for children, for all those going hungry must be dramatically improved and expanded. New social protection programs must be implemented for millions who face hunger or loss of their livelihoods.
Governmental public support to address this crisis must go to the most vulnerable and marginalized in our societies, we have to ensure social security for the most vulnerable groups, including small scale producers that may face economic hardship because of this crisis. We demand stable and decent incomes for small-scale food producers, as well as salaries and proper conditions for rural workers and specific protection for seasonal and displaced migrant workers with documentation problems or residents in precarious situations.
We join the demands of trade unions and other social movements to stop evictions, to drop austerity policies and immediately expand public budgets for health and social security to ensure universal social protection and free access to healthcare. Likewise, we support the call for immediate debt relief that allows for resources already available in developing countries to be reallocated. Resources must go from interest payments and repayments to health, social protection and other immediate measures. We also demand appropriate economic incentives like subsidies and tax reduction for the small-scale producers and support transformative approaches like agroecology, that have a huge potential to transform food systems.
It is unacceptable that vulnerable sectors are not supported and that small-scale producers go bankrupt and food and agricultural workers (many of them are migrants) have no jobs and therefore no access to food, while the corporate sector absorbs key public resources. It is unacceptable for this crisis to reinforce the industrial food system that destroys the environment and has contributed the current health crisis, generates poverty and hunger and imposes on us the junk food that has led to widespread diseases such as obesity and diabetes, which have made people extremely vulnerable to COVID19. Moreover, given the scientific evidence, it is clear the relation between the recurrent recent epidemics, new epizootics outbreaks and current agribusiness and extractivism ( either via destruction of habitats and/or livestock farms intensification). We demand immediate measures to start a transition to agroecological food systems, and to move away from industrial animal farming towards circular mobile pastoralist systems, and extensive livestock production as part of mixed farming systems.
The current crisis cannot be allowed to extend the corporate neoliberal agenda with bailouts for mega corporations, increasing oligopolies and the destruction of resilient local food systems.
In times of crisis, human rights are more important than ever. There will be no effective response to the pandemic if governments misuse extraordinary measures to increase repression and protect the interests of the few.
This pandemic has unveiled and aggravate the conditions of brutal inequality and precarity that are leaving millions vulnerable to sudden loss of access to the means of survival: as small-scale food producer organizations together with the other sectors of society it is crucial to mobilize, build strong alliances and initiatives, exert pressure in the media and on our governments and advance our work on the ground.
We need to maintain and strengthen local, small-scale food production to increase access to healthy food for all, and simultaneously fight for improved public health and social protection systems for all.