Agricultural Livelihoods

Why we need to rethink our food systems

Biodiversity is threatened as we claim more land for agriculture, industry and living space. Photo credits: Els Remijn

At first glance the COVID-19 crisis and the climate and biodiversity crises might seem unrelated, but you don’t have to dig too deeply to find connections.

Natural habitats are shrinking at an alarming rate as we clear forests and land to create space for roads, farms, homes and businesses. Climate change forces people and animals to migrate to new places in search of somewhere safer to live. As a result, people come into closer contact with animals they would not normally come across, and the chances that diseases will jump from one species to another increase. It’s estimated that today, three out of every four new infectious diseases in people come from animals[1].

Global trade, international travel and densely populated areas mean illnesses like COVID-19 can spread far and fast. It’s easy to see how the way we live our lives has contributed to the crisis we’re now in.

This crisis raises some very important questions about how we use land and where we get our food. 

We know, for example, that crops are vulnerable to climate change, soil erosion and pests; but now we are also seeing more than ever how the world’s food supply depends on global supply chains that are, themselves, also vulnerable. 

The crisis shines a spotlight on the importance of resilient local supply chains and communities. It forces us to reconsider our connections to people and places, both locally and globally.

Shaping a planet and people positive future

What IF we can get the food system into better shape and restore the balance between people and planet? What IF we create more robust local supply chains so that communities become more resilient, and carbon emissions from food transportation are reduced? What IF we create circular economies which take nature’s example and design out waste so that we place less strain on our natural resources? What IF we see more investment in regenerative agriculture so that we can constantly restore and revitalise the land we use instead of having to keep claiming more? 

This year was already going to be a year of important events for the environment. Global leaders are due to meet in China in October to agree on the steps they will take in the next decade as they work toward a vision of people living in harmony with nature—a vision they adopted when signing up to the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Convention explains what harmony looks like: “By 2050, biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and wisely used, maintaining ecosystem services, sustaining a healthy planet and delivering benefits essential for all people.”  Some of the global meetings planned for this year may be postponed, but the vision remains and is more urgent than ever. 

Time to take action

We are at a crossroads. We can continue to exhaust natural resources as we expand, grow and consume or we can reimagine the way we use land and source food in our  post-COVID 19 world. Just as we have all had to take decisive action to stop the spread of the virus, so we have to take urgent action to make sure the world post COVID 19, is one that operates within planetary boundaries. We believe it’s possible for people and planet to thrive together.

In collaboration with our partners, we strengthen the ties between smallholder farmers and urban centres closest to them, so that food supply and income can continue.

Now more than ever, we want to support our partners that help rural communities in East Africa and India improve the health of the environment while growing their own livelihoods. This is why we believe we have to learn quickly from the COVID 19 crisis and take action to secure a healthy future for both people and planet.


[1] https://www.cdc.gov/onehealth/basics/zoonotic-diseases.html

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