From COVID-19 to Radical Transformation of Our Food Systems



Dear Friends and Colleagues

From COVID-19 to Radical Transformation of Our Food Systems

A recent report presents the experiences and concerns of millions of small-scale food producers, workers, consumers, women and youth represented in the organizations that participate in the Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples Mechanism (CSM) (Item 1).

The report points out that the COVID-19 food crisis is closely linked to economic, social, gender and environmental injustices of free-market neoliberalism. The crisis will not be fixed by emergency measures or stimulus packages that perpetuate the same model, but only by a human rights-compliant radical transformation of food systems.

Rather than promoting an intensive, export-oriented agriculture that perpetuates inequality, human rights abuses and the climate crisis, the report urges States to encourage agroecology, which offers healthy and nutritious food, while also preserving the environment. The COVID-19 pandemic presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to accelerate the agroecological transition and reverse decades of neoliberal policies that have exacerbated inequalities and led to official neglect of the public realm integral to building robust health and welfare, and sustainable food systems.

The Women’s and Youth Working Groups of the CSM have made dedicated contributions from the viewpoints of their constituencies elaborating, respectively, a women’s autonomous report (Item 2) and a youth declaration (Item 3). It is high time for development priorities to be redefined in accordance with gender justice and the demands of the youth as the future guardians of food systems. Public action must prioritize the future health of people and planet, end structural discrimination, and redistribute the social reproductive and care work carried out predominantly by women.


With best wishes

Third World Network
131 Jalan Macalister
10400 Penang
To subscribe to other TWN information


Item 1


Working Group on Global Food Governance of the Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism (CSM) for relations with the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS)
October 2020

Key Messages

  • The emergence and devastating impacts of COVID-19 are closely linked to the economic, social and environmental injustices provoked by neoliberal policies and a food system based on intensive, export-oriented agriculture production, global supply chains and market-led food provision, and corporate profit. The COVID-19 crisis cannot be fixed by emergency measures and stimulus packages that perpetuate the same injustices.
  • Evidence collected on the ground around the world confirms that the pandemic brought existing inequalities and vulnerabilities into sharp relief and underscored the need for systemic change towards socially just food systems with agency, sustainability and stability at its heart, which CSM members characterise as agroecology and food sovereignty.
  • The evidence also shows that few government responses to the pandemic aimed at the realization of human rights or addressed the needs of marginalized communities. They reflect biases against the centrality of peasant production, artisanal fisheries, small-scale herding, gathering/foraging, local food systems and food-agricultural labour in ensuring food security. The most affected peoples include rural and urban working classes, small-scale producers, landless peoples, Indigenous Peoples, women, peoples suffering from racism/discrimination, migrants, youth, refugees, peoples living in areas of war and conflict, and peoples in countries enduring economic blockades.
  • Human rights and democracy have been eroded, with abuses of emergency executive powers; the use of force; enhanced surveillance and control of telecommunications, media and press; human and constitutional rights suspended and human rights defenders threatened; lockdowns, curfews, physical distancing and emergency measures harshly enforced through armed police and military, leading to arrests, violence and death.
  • Communities’ responses have fostered values of solidarity, resilience, sustainability and human dignity. In some cases authorities have dialogued with people’s movements and taken their proposals on board. However, official policy, financial support and stimulus measures have mostly favoured corporations, large producers and global supply chains ensuring them the capital and work-force they need to keep operations running. This came at the expense of local food systems, creating hardships and deepening food insecurity. These two approaches cannot co-exist.
  • The primacy of public policies over market and corporation-led responses is a precondition to support a radical transformation of food systems, realize the right to adequate food and put food sovereignty into practice.
  • Putting the food sovereignty vision into practice in this crisis highlights the essential role that agroecology and territorial food systems, small-scale food producers and family farmers (mostly women) and workers play in feeding the majority of the population in a resilient way, in particular those most affected.
  • More than any other international governance space, the CFS is the only forum which can ensure that all actors affected by the crisis can autonomously and legitimately organize to co-construct a global response, for which governments hold the primary responsibility.


Item 2


Report of the Women’s Working Group of the Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism (CSM) for relations with the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS).
By Jessica Duncan and Priscilla Claey
October 2020


“We won’t go back to normality, because normality was the problem.”

With this sentence projected on the facade of a building in Santiago of Chile in March 2020, grassroots and feminist movements clearly articulated their perspective on the COVID-19 crisis. This is a profound and unprecedented global crisis that is exacerbating and leveraging pre-existent systemic forms of patriarchal inequalities, oppressions, racism, colonialism, violence and discrimination that cannot be tolerated.

With this sentence capturing the public space and visibility of a building, feminist movements also proclaimed that they would not surrender to isolation and the silencing of their voices, struggles and demands during this pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has uncovered the structural vulnerabilities and weaknesses of our food systems. Neoliberalism, global capitalism and feudalism have been eroding for decades our social protection and 1welfare systems, fostering the structural colonial deprivation and grabbing of natural resources of the global south, violating human rights, harming ecosystems and biodiversity and strengthening the sexual division of labor, leaving women to face alone the burden of productive and social reproductive work.

From a feminist perspective, the COVID-19 crisis is indeed a global care crisis, where states and governments have failed to prioritize people’s interests, while (transnational) corporations are increasingly capturing and dismantling the public commons to impose their own private interest. This pattern is also well reflected in the current production and consumption food systems.

It has been suggested that the COVID-19 pandemic may add between 83 and 132 million people to the total number of undernourished in the world in 2020 depending on the economic growth scenario. Women are indeed positioned, due to their gender-assigned roles, to be disproportionately impacted, as they are literally on the front line of the crisis. Women and girls are the majority of food producers and providers for their households, they are the majority of nurses, care and social workers, food and agricultural workers and teachers. Yet, they have been consistently overlooked and invisible in research and responses to the pandemic.

Gender inequality and discrimination is shaping, and will continue to shape, the COVID-19 pandemic in tangible and significant ways. The collective spirit and emotional intensity generated during this time of crisis can be, and has been, mobilized, and their impacts are likely to be greater now. Efforts dedicated to providing mutual aid, monitoring policy makers, defending women and workers’ rights, creating strike funds to extend health benefits to those who lost their jobs, strengthening popular education, organizing food distributions, offer a perspective of the crisis ‘from below’ and provide us with concrete examples of rebuilding social fabrics based on concrete solidarity. Feminist and food sovereignty movements have been, and continue to be, central to these efforts.

Given this context, this report summarizes research around the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on women in and across the constituencies and regions of the Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism (CSM) for relations with the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS). Based on the research, the report summarizes acts of mutual aid and solidarity, as well as negative impacts experienced by women around the world. Principles to guide policies and programmes are identified and concrete policy demands are articulated in four areas: 1) economic activities, markets and access to resources; 2) care work, public health and gender-based violence; 3) participation, representation and digital equity; 4) government responses and social protection.

Figure 1 Summary of principles and policy demand (please see online document)

Drawing from the interviews and document analysis five cross-cutting principles were identified to guide policies and program in relation to gender, COVID-19 and food systems:

  1. Participation and representation
  2. Human Rights
  3. Non-discrimination and intersectionality
  4. Food sovereignty
  5. Feminism
  6. Gender justice, equality and equity

Building on these principles, a number of key policy demands were formulated in each of the four themes highlighted above:

1) Economic activities, markets and access to resources

  • Recognize the role of women and their organizations as economic and political actors.
  • Acknowledge and protect women working in the informal economy Provide targeted support for women cooperatives and women-led small businesses.
  • Maintain and reinforce local supply chains and food systems
  • (re)Focus on and re-invest in agriculture
  • Protect workers
  • Ensure women have equal and non-discriminatory ownership rights to and control over land and other natural resources

2) Care work, public health and gender-based violence

  • Recognize, support, and redistribute unpaid care work
  • Ensure childcare provisions and adopt family-work conciliation measures
  • Ensure access to information
  • Ensure the right to health care
  • Increase public education budgets
  • Stop gender-based violence
  • Put an end to all forms of harassment

3) Participation, representation and digital equity

  • Recognize women and their organizations as key actors and decision makers of agricultural and rural development policies. This is a first step towards integrating a feminist perspective in decision-making and policy processes.
  • Actively ensure the meaningful participation of women in rural and urban areas
  • Invest in and support women leaders and women’s organizations •Fund gender-sensitive research
  • Democratize internet access and conduct a mapping to identify digital inequalities

4) Government responses and social protection

  • Ensure all COVID-19 responses are gender-responsive
  • Prioritize social protection

The report concludes by reiterating the important work that movements, individuals and other civil society organizations have undertaken not only in solidarity with others, but also to hold states accountable. It calls for a continuation of this momentum, recognizing that for all the negative outcomes, the pandemic, and resulting crisis, provides us with an important moment to push for equality, equity, food sovereignty and for a feminist present and future that does build on knowledges from the past.


Item 3


Youth Working Group of the Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism (CSM) for relations with the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS).
October 2020

Declaration (excerpt)

Covid-19 and the responses of governments are having devastating impacts on young people and our communities around the globe. We are experiencing the combined impacts of an acute health crisis, a current and looming food crisis, and a climate crisis – all illustrative of wider systems crises. Covid-19 has shown that neoliberal food, economic, governance and development/production systems are not working. Not only are they part of the problem – creating the underlying hunger, poverty, environmental destruction and social exclusion that responses to Covid-19 have exacerbated – but they are unable to offer solutions to these unfolding crises.

In this time of multiple crises, Youth are facing several challenges. As markets fail, schools close, and jobs disappear, we see opportunities and our futures crumble away. However, we are not standing idly by. We, as a diverse community of Youth from around the globe, are active in developing solutions to the challenges facing our communities: we are organizing ourselves to continue providing food for our communities and caring for the elderly as well as our children; we are shortening the distance from producer to consumer; we are defending school feeding programs and local markets; we are rebuilding rural economies and territories, ensuring youth can stay and return in the countryside; we are caring for and healing the earth by growing nourishing food through agroecology; we are standing up to domestic violence against women and girls as well as racism, homophobia, xenophobia and the patriarchy; and, we are defending workers’ and migrants’ rights as well as the rights of rural people. We are also imagining new ways to organize the world: envisioning healthy, sustainable and dignified food systems, and taking steps towards achieving them. In our own constituencies and territories, and now here at the CFS, we are elaborating public policy demands to ensure that radical transformations occur NOW, before it is too late.

Young people are often presented as beacons of hope for the future. The expectation is on us to imagine and enact solutions to the world’s problems that we have inherited. We do have solutions, but to bring them forward, we need a seat at the table. Similarly, young people are often depicted as a monolith – with a singular set of interests and expectations. But we have a plurality of identities as well as understandings, experiences, knowledge and expectations towards the future. We need mechanisms to ensure our plurality is respected, and our meaningful participation in political discussions on issues that directly impact us and our futures is guaranteed. We are not only here to talk, but to work with governments in the CFS to advance the progressive realization of the human right to food and all interconnected and indivisible human rights. Further still, we are ready to lead, to present our vision, to create and take space, and to work together towards a better future.

This Declaration, prepared by the CSM Youth Working Group, is the outcome of a participatory process of sharing experiences, struggles, visions and solutions. The youths engaged in this process represent perspectives from all CSM constituencies: smallholder producers, urban food insecure, consumers, young women, men and non-binary youths, food and agriculture workers including migrant and seasonal workers, pastoralist youths, Indigenous Peoples, fisherfolk, hunters and gatherers, and students. They are based in India, Mozambique, Australia, Canada, Norway, the Netherlands, Brazil, Puerto Rico, South Africa, Argentina, Kenya, and the United States.

In the Declaration, we share how we and our communities have been experiencing the recent months, how we have been responding, and what our demands to our governments and the international community are. These policy demands not only respond to Covid-19, but will put us on a path towards building healthy, sustainable, resilient and dignified food systems for all.

articles post