IFSTAL News

COVID-19 and Food Systems Discussion

COVID-19 and Food Systems Discussion

by Rosina Borrelli -
Number of replies: 14

Hi all,

We hope you are safe and well and you are managing to continue your studies as best you can.

As a team we are conscious that the COVID-19 situation is moving very quickly and there are many areas that have food systems implications that you may wish to share/discuss.

So, as a starter for discussions, we will share some of the interesting articles we have seen/read, please comment and add to the discussion.

Sending you all our best wishes.

Team IFSTAL 

In reply to Rosina Borrelli

Re: COVID-19 and Food Systems Discussion

by Rosina Borrelli -

Coronavirus: Aldi, Morrisons, Waitrose and Asda lift some restrictions: 31st March: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-52102906

Retailers are now seen to be lifting restrictions as supply chains catch up.

for IFSTAL:

Consider the record revenues that have been seen in one month for these organisations. But, also the additional costs of protecting their staff (till screens etc).

Also think about the removal of special offers, with the intention of reducing multi buys for individual families, but in reality increasing revenue and putting poorer shoppers at a disadvantage. 

Also consider the immediate price increases that have been applied (toilet paper, eggs) and those that will occur as a result of commodity supply chains and trade wars (coffee, cocoa). Have any of you noticed how organic food no longer seems so expensive?

This all points to where the power lies in the system, (we may know this), but is the general consumer about to get a nasty shock?


In reply to Rosina Borrelli

Re: COVID-19 and Food Systems Discussion

by Paula Almiron-Chamadoira -

Some more ideas and resources:

  • Fruits and vegetable collection is not being made which will have an impact on the food stock.
  • Supermarket workers are at the frontline of the crisis, not having the best work conditions, and using the current situation to protest for their labour rights. Besides, they are epicentral vectors of the virus.
  • In these "Corona times", we are forgetting the locust plague in Africa, which might have an impact in Europe in the near future.

The positive: This crisis is highlighting #FoodSecurity issues, appealing for #FoodEthics and fairness. Acknowledging a problem is the first step.

#FAO https://bit.ly/3awYI8X

Article in Spanish on the lack of farming workers to proceed with the collection of F&V: https://bit.ly/39yOsM3

In reply to Paula Almiron-Chamadoira

Re: COVID-19 and Food Systems Discussion

by Rosina Borrelli -
Thanks Paula, this is great, and brings in many of the hidden "costs" of this crisis.

In the workplace update (sent yesterday), there is a link to support the soft fruit farmers so not to waste the food.

Also, this podcast about the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the effects of COVID-19 on agriculture in the EU is very insightful:

https://www.euractiv.com/section/agriculture-food/news/the-effects-of-covid-19-on-agriculture-in-the-eu/?utm_term=Autofeed&utm_medium=social&utm_source=Twitter#Echobox=1585675269

Plus, this piece from Catherine Price, one of our alumni, is also about the fragility of the system in the UK: https://discoversociety.org/2020/03/30/the-uk-food-system-in-the-time-of-covid-19/
In reply to Rosina Borrelli

Re: COVID-19 and Food Systems Discussion

by Anna Knowles-Smith -
Hello!

Recently I have been trying to use the food systems approach to think about food poverty (something which I have realised noticed coming to light in the current coronavirus crisis). I have found this task very difficult - I am finding it hard to think about where food poverty sits within the food systems conceptual framework. Would you say food poverty is an issue of the socio-economic and institutional enabling environment of the food system? And as a consequence of this, there is distributional inequity (as an outcome, food poverty)? Or does food poverty exist outside of the conceptual framework? I am thinking in the context of the UK food system

Thanks in advance for your help!!!
Anna
In reply to Anna Knowles-Smith

Re: COVID-19 and Food Systems Discussion

by Anna Cura -
Hi Anna,

I would probably want to reframe food poverty as simply poverty, and then talk of household food insecurity and/or hunger (although the jury is still out there for the perfect language!).

A brilliant book to read is Hannah Lambie-Mumford's book 'Hungry Britain, the rise of food charity'. And yes, I'd say that poverty and hunger is heavily affected by the socio-economic and institutional environments (the book describes it really well). It's important to remember that systems don't really have boundaries - everything is interconnected, so you can look at hunger through the socio-economic angle, and some of that will inevitably stem from and/or have implications on food systems themselves.

I am not familiar with IFSTAL's 'food systems conceptual framework', but what I would recommend is rather than trying to find where this issue fits into the framework, instead start from the issue and think about what links/relates to it. What are the social, economic, cultural, technological, political drivers that affect the issue? They all influence poverty and hunger somehow. Frameworks are useful to help us think about and conceptualise complexity, rather than to force us to categorise everything in that one particular combination.

As for how this space is evolving at the moment, it is interesting to see:
On a positive note, the huge civic response to help feed the nation, from mutual aid groups to a call for farmers to give 1-acre of their farms to communities for self-sufficiency, business models adapting quickly (eg: Leon, Nandos, Cook Foods) and food networks synchronising efforts. From a food citizenship point of view, there is a huge revival of communities and realisation of our own power as citizens. We are seeing new networks emerging, existing ones strengthening, and with it a whole new power structure that will forever change food systems.
On the more negative side, there are some tensions from already well-established organisations redistributing food to those in need and emerging networks who are less experienced, with concerns that these newcomers are accidentally doing things 'the wrong way'. There is also huuuuge pressures on food redistribution programmes to feed even more people with less resources (staff self-isolating, no adequate storage for the massive influx of surplus food coming from the foodservice industry shutting down...). Finally, there is a risk that we further entrench the belief that emergency food is the only response, rather than think long-term about what resilience looks like, and what systems are needed to be put in place to avoid chaos from future shocks. The RSA's Food Farming and Countryside Commission has just announced a big call-out for data to beging to think about what that long-term resilience could look like (https://twitter.com/FFC_Commission/status/1245660937132158976).

What I would also note is that we have temporarily gone from a complex (food) system, to a chaotic one. Until we have found some sort of new balance, it is harder to apply a systems lens to what is currently happening.

At the Food Ethics Council, we had a Food Talks on Tuesday about some of these questions already. Summary notes + link to the video recording here: https://www.foodethicscouncil.org/foodtalks-emergency-responses-to-covid-19/

Hope this helps,
x
In reply to Anna Cura

Re: COVID-19 and Food Systems Discussion

by Nikolaos Dadios -
Hi Anna and Anna.

What fantastic question you have raised and expanded in. Really interesting information and thoughts.
I always find it fascinating to see how colleagues from different disciplines view these issues. This being a system without boundaries, as Anna C. says, there are are limitless perspectives for this.
I think we all agree that as it stands there are serious problems in the current food system and food poverty (or insecurity/hunger, like Anna C. likes to frame it) is one of the most important ones. Essentially right now we are overproducing the wrong kind of food, at huge environmental and social costs, while also not being able to solve the problem of food security, malnutrition and hunger. I believe we all hope that this crisis may be the trigger for society to review our beliefs about this system and demand or produce changes to the better (and hopefully we will not be disappointed in this).
In the UK context, where the food supply chain relies on just-in-time principles etc., the food system is being severely tested right now and if workers along this chain start falling sick or have to isolate things may become worse. However, Anna C., it doesn't seem to me that it has become 'chaotic' yet - would you l ike to expand on this? Why do you think that? Is it because of the scenes we have recently witnessed with panic bying and empty shelves?
In reply to Nikolaos Dadios

Re: COVID-19 and Food Systems Discussion

by Anna Cura -
Hi Nikolaos,

Thanks! To respond to your query on chaotic systems...
The difference between a complex and chaotic system is that while we can still identify patterns within the former, in the latter "the relationships between cause and effect are impossible to determine because they shift constantly and no manageable patterns exist—only turbulence." So it isn't so much about how the situation feels, but how patterns in the system behave. People panic-buying is more a result of the uncertainty that chaotic systems bring, rather a defining factor.

When most businesses closed, employment and food distribution (among many things) were suddenly and radically disrupted. All the existing established patterns of the complex system were thrown up in the air. As a response, everyone is acting quickly (some with more panic than others!) to re-establish order and find some new stability under the new conditions. It feels like we are getting closer to this more stable phase now (although still fairly unstable), and we are seeing more people thinking about 'what next' and 'what about the long-term implications'.

In case of interest, here's a great summary of what systemic leadership looks like, from the Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2007/11/a-leaders-framework-for-decision-making

I hope this helps!
Best wishes,
Anna
In reply to Anna Cura

Re: COVID-19 and Food Systems Discussion

by Anna Knowles-Smith -
Dear Anna,


Thank you so much! This has massively helped me! And I now have that book on Kindle....excited to read it!

I am really glad you mentioned food citizenship - this is also something I am looking into in light of Corona virus

Thank you very much for all the links you included - these are absolutely great!

Thanks again,
Best wishes,
Anna
In reply to Anna Knowles-Smith

Re: COVID-19 and Food Systems Discussion

by Rachel Headings -
Hey Anna,

Some really interesting insights in this discussion! I agree with a lot that Anna C. has said below, especially her advice to start with the problem and see how it relates to the rest of the systems perspective. Poverty is a huge issue in and of itself and relates to other sectors (such as housing, health, etc.) that interact/impact food security but are often not considered in those terms. Along the lines of food citizenship and the moral/ethical side of things, I would recommend looking into 'capabilities' as a topic for food systems. Amartya Sen's 'Development as Freedom' is a foundational text that I found extremely helpful when I was doing my master's.

On the topic of third sector responses to food security, I also think it's important to consider the role of the state (i.e. government) with food security. For example, is food a right (as the UK committed to through the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights [ICESCR])? If so, then does the government have a responsibility to supply food (or food access) to its citizens or is it alright for it to be left in the hands of food banks, nonprofits, etc.? Martin Caraher writes extensively on this topic and he recently came out with a book 'The Economics of Emergency Food Aid Provision' with Sinead Furey - I also highly recommend this!

Always interested to talk about this topic more if you want! Best of luck with your work,

Rach
In reply to Rachel Headings

Re: COVID-19 and Food Systems Discussion

by Emma-Jane Beth Murray -
Hi all,

Some wonderful insightful discussions. Before I chime in on Rachel's question I wanted to point people's attention to a podcast I listen to quite frequently that has some amazing speakers on it.

Outrage and Optimism
https://globaloptimism.com/podcast/
Episodes 43-46 focus on Covid-19 and climate change, plus some conversations on food security. Certainly worth a listen. You can find those episodes on Spotify and elsewhere online.

Rachel, I came across this link that may be somewhat helpful in answering your question. It declares that as per the ICESCR, member states are to follow obligations that implement the right to sufficient food. One obligation stated - "Whenever an individual or group is unable, for reasons beyond their control, to enjoy the right to adequate food by the means at their disposal, States have the obligation to fulfil (provide) that right directly. This obligation also applies for persons who are victims of natural or other disasters." I would like to think Covid-19 fits into this obligation considering it is a public emergency. There are other documents on the website that go in more depth.
https://www.ohchr.org/en/issues/food/pages/foodindex.aspx

Something else I came across, mentioning that economic sanctions should be lifted to prevent hunger crises.
https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25761&LangID=E

Interested in hearing your thoughts.

Best,
Emma-Jane
In reply to Emma-Jane Beth Murray

Re: COVID-19 and Food Systems Discussion

by Rachel Headings -
Hey Emma and Gavin,

Thanks for your thoughts. I was raising the question more as (what I believe to be) a vital part of the context of food poverty/food security. My MSc was completed on the topic and I'm incorporating that basic approach as part of my PhD - although I've refocused to look more at capability approaches (like Sen and others have outlined) rather than the traditional rights-approach.

The UK absolutely did ratify the ICESCR and on a policy level does have a responsibility for food security. Policy responses within this have of course been slow at the national level (at least in England) but it'll be interesting to see how this shapes the new English National Food Policy effort led by Henry Dimbleby. To Gavin's point on going through the UN court system to enforce it - my research showed that approach to be most effective in 'developing nation' contexts (setting aside the definitions for 'developing' vs 'developed' world and their respective arguments). For example, India enacted their national Right to Food policy (one of the first in the world) based on this approach and a similar path was taken in South Africa and Brazil. There aren't many 'right to food' policies - or at least policies identified explicitly as such - in the 'first world' context, at least not on the national scale. Scotland has their Recipe for Success policy, which is one of the more developed, and Canada is moving in that direction. But so far most RTF policies are at the city or regional level, maybe best exemplified by the Milan Urban Food Pact with 100+ cities signing on.

If it's a topic anyone is interested in exploring further I'm happy to share my references from my thesis via email :) I stand by Amartya Sen's 'Development as Freedom' (1999) and Caraher and Furey's 'Economics of Emergency Food Aid Provision' (2018). Caraher and Coveney (eds.) 'Food Poverty and Insecurity: International Food Inequalities' (2016) also have a selection of articles from different authors on RTF and food security that I found useful. Sorry I don't have any links as they're all hard-copy books for me!

Best,

Rach
In reply to Rachel Headings

Re: COVID-19 and Food Systems Discussion

by Gavin Wren -
Interestingly, the UK ratified to the definition of right to food with the ICESCR, however they also blocked the ability to complain to the UN over breaches, which is effectively saying "we agree to the words, but will prevent anyone's ability to act upon them".
In reply to Rosina Borrelli

Re: COVID-19 and Food Systems Discussion

by Viola Graef -
Hi everyone,

I came across this in an LSHTM newsletter and thought it would interest the community here :) https://padlet.com/anhacademy/COVID19 "A living, open-access map of experiences, perspectives, opportunities and questions from researchers around the world about the impact of COVID-19 and other health emergencies on food systems, agriculture and nutrition. Developed by the Agriculture, Nutrition and Health (ANH) Academy and its members. Please share your experience based on where you live or where your research/practice is."

Best,
Viola
In reply to Viola Graef

Re: COVID-19 and Food Systems Discussion

by Nikolaos Dadios -
Hi Viola.

This is a very interesting and helpful app. Thank you very much.
Regards.
Niko