A territorial approach to ensure food resiliency: lessons to learn from the COVID19 health crisis

Anna Faucher, Louison Lançon, Perrine Judenne et Isaac Guzmán,

Let’s Food 


Who are we? 

The Let’s Food association analyzes territorial food systems around the world and supports local authorities in putting together multistakeholders dynamics to develop resilience, sustainability and food security at the local level. In order to speed up the transition, the exchange of good practices from NGOs, businesses and institutions is essential. Faced with the global health crisis, the Let’s Food association surveyed local authorities and civil society organization from 5 continents on the impacts and solutions implemented in order to build on collective intelligence. Which food systems were most resilient? How were the different food system stakeholders able to innovate, adapt or even work together to ensure food security for all? Here is an overview of the results:

Impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the food security of urban populations

In many countries, cities have often been the entry points for the virus and thus particularly affected by the COVID 19 crisis. An OECD study reveals that the main vector has been poverty and access to care, combined with population densities and the quality of housing. This explains in particular that certain disadvantaged neighborhoods were more impacted than others within the same city. 

By closing the borders and interrupting food flows, the COVID19 crisis revealed extreme interdependencies and risks regarding the food availability of urban centers. Dependent on their purchasing power to get food, urban populations are today particularly affected by rising prices and the difficulty of ensuring their food security. The requests for food aid, mainly from associations and local authorities, have exploded on the territories. Faced with the multiplication of supermarkets, fast food and highly industrialized products, urban populations whose obesity and diabetes rates are constantly increasing, have been even more impacted by the virus.

Local solidarity for the most vulnerable

Local governments have been at the forefront of responding to growing social needs. NGOs and companies have taken action in the territories to help the most vulnerable. In France, Italy, Chile and South Africa, local authorities and associations have gotten organized to get supplies from local producers and deliver baskets of healthy fruits and vegetables to food aid beneficiaries. The municipality sometimes subsidized the products in order to fairly pay the farmers while offering prices accessible to all. Many online marketing platforms have also emerged in South America and Europe, for example, to develop new market opportunities for producers whose export chains have been interrupted.

The role of territories in ensuring food resilience

The COVID-19 crisis revealed the main tools to develop food resiliency that some territories had anticipated and implemented: they have suffered much less from the brutal slowdown in international trade. They must now set an example for all the territories that wish to ensure food security for their population in the face of the risk of crises.

1/ Preserving a food belt around cities

Some urban centers have built close cooperation with their rural areas by maintaining a diversified local agriculture historically intended to supply the main consumption centers (Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and Cork in Ireland, for example). Tensions on food availability were much less significant in these territories. Likewise, the predominance of family farming, in Ireland for example, much less dependent on foreign labor, demonstrated its resilience and was less affected by the COVID19 crisis.

2/ Encourage cooperation between local producers

The existing connections between producers and cooperatives in some territories have facilitated the reorganization of the food distribution in a united manner in order to ensure a minimum and fair income for all producers. In France, the wholesale markets (public or private) also played an important role in connecting the demand with the local offer.

3/ Develop food self-sufficiency on an individual scale

In Sfax (Tunisia) or in France for example, through shared or family gardens, urban residents who have kept urban or even peri-urban agriculture, mainly dedicated to self-consumption, have suffered less from the price rise of fruit and vegetables.

4/ Facilitate access to healthy and local food to all

At the initiative of local authorities and the civil society, some territories have been developing and strengthening for many years a resilient and healthy food supply and distribution network, based on local and sometimes organic production: grocery stores, food baskets, markets and deliveries which have facilitated local purchases as well as the supply of school canteens. The closure of schools and school canteens because of COVID19 has revealed their role in the food security of certain families. In order to ensure the continuity of this service, local authorities paid the beneficiaries, in a financial form by distributing the equivalent of the price of all the meals not distributed (in Marseille and Paris in France for example), or else distributed food baskets directly to families (in Birmingham, Cork or Durban for example).

5/ Supporting choices towards less impactful diets

The industrialized food system, and in particular intensive farming, is one of the main causes of the loss of habitat for wild animals and the transmission of new viruses. The re-territorialization of part of our diet will have to prioritize the production and consumption of legumes in order to preserve ecosystems and resources.

6/ Develop the mandate of local authorities, rely on the interknowledge of actors and cooperation at all scales

There is an urgent need to accelerate the decentralization processes in order to allow each territory to ensure its food resilience: financial transfers and human resources must be ensured to obtain results that meet the challenges. In addition, the establishment of local food governance bodies, led by local governments, is essential to build a sustainable food system: it must promote the inter-knowledge of the actors, develop their capacity to create synergies and partnerships but also build relationships of trust and solidarity in the event of a crisis. Local authorities at all scales must cooperate to coordinate and optimize the use of resources. Finally, the territories of the world must share good practices as quickly as possible in order to ensure a global transition, food interdependencies must be rethought while maintaining sustainable and equitable international cooperation.


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