Connecting the dots: Communities, food systems, forests and climate in the time of COVID-19
The coronavirus pandemic will cause famines of “biblical proportions” in dozens of countries this year, as the head of the World Food Programme told the UN Security Council last week.
We’re seeing supply chains break down, while foreign aid dries up. More than a billion people could face food shortages by the end of 2020.
If you are able to give to those in need, please do so now. The World Food Programme, World Central Kitchen, and Action Against Hunger are all worthy organizations.
In the long term, as we rebuild from the pandemic, we must find ways to create more resilient supply chains and food systems. The coronavirus crisis in some ways is an intensified dress rehearsal for the kinds of shocks that are expected under a changing climate.
A key place to focus efforts will be the Amazon. The global supply chains that connect us to this forest system are mostly based on destruction. Forests are being cut for cattle ranching, soy, logging, and other agriculture. Deforestation in the Amazon has jumped 300% last year and has actually accelerated over the last two months.
What a waste. The Amazon forest holds more than 40,000 species of plants, at least 3,000 species of fish, and 3,000 kinds of fruit. A few products with Amazonian origins are valued worldwide – cocoa, vanilla, chili peppers, and cassava – and a few have emerged in recent years in global consumer markets, like açai berries and Brazil nuts. The region still holds the world’s largest undiscovered cornucopia of new foods.
It is also a priceless living pharmacy. Most of today’s pharmaceuticals are derived from natural plant extracts – at least 25 percent of modern medicines trace their roots to an estimated 50,000 medicinal plants, only a fraction of which had been studied in labs before commercial use.
We are in danger of trading these treasures for some beef and soy, which could be produced on existing farmland far more sustainably. It’s as if we were handed the keys to the Library of Alexandria and decided to use its manuscripts to burn for heating.
The indigenous communities we’ve been working with for years are suddenly facing critical shortages of food and medical supplies. As we rebuild post-pandemic, recovery efforts must prioritize creating the kinds of value chains that can sustain the forest, thereby supporting food security for indigenous communities living there, and their resilience to external shocks.
This week, we share a strategy for creating economic models for the Amazon that strengthen resilience, local food systems, and planetary health. Beto Borges, Director of Forest Trends’ Communities and Territorial Governance Initiative, and a long-time partner, Jacob Olander of EcoDecisión, show how support for small forest enterprises, regional market development, and national and global efforts to stamp out illegal deforestation reinforce each other.
I hope you and your loved ones are staying well. Be safe and keep up the good work,