Biodiversity is the Core Solution to COVID-19 and Climate Crisis
Arid soils in Mauritania, crops have failed and the region faced a major food crisis in 2012. Over 700,000 people were affected in Mauritania and 12 million across West Africa.

Biodiversity sits at the heart of the simultaneous fight against both COVID-19 and the climate crisis, said experts during a Wednesday event hosted by the Society for International Development (SID)

At the event, ‘The Vaccine for Biodiversity’, panelists discussed re-focusing attention on the current health and climate crisis, and how new pandemics should and can be prevented in the future by looking at humankind’s relationship with nature. 

Two competing approaches have emerged – one that focuses on the interconnectedness between planetary health and human health and the other that sees health as a commodity – noted Ruchi Shroff, Director of Navdanya International based in Italy.

The view of health as something to be purchased through the pharmaceutical industry or found in biomedical vaccines “separates us from nature”, said Shroff. 

“[We see ourselves] as those that can control and can predict nature, and can also manipulate nature without any thought of the consequences.” 

Such a paradigm has led to disastrous effects, both on the planet’s health and our health. 

“It has exposed the extent and the interconnective precarities of all our global systems, and has shown the health emergency we are facing is deeply connected to the health emergency the earth is facing.” 

New zoonotic diseases rise from global food industry 

Antibiotics are commonly used in animals—often without the input of veterinarians—to boost their growth and keep them from picking up infections

Safeguarding biodiversity has provided a “heavy blanket of resilience”, but the global industrial food system threatens this protection with new zoonotic diseases arising as a result. 

Neglected zoonotic diseases kill at least two million people annually, mostly in low- and middle-income countries. 

“We are, ironically, becoming connected to disease rather than to diversity,” said Shroff. 

The evolutionary interaction between people and nature in the past has built up an extraordinary reservoir of biodiversity. 

But in spite of biodiversity’s impact and calls to curb mass extinction, none of the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets have been met for the second consecutive decade. 

Biodiversity loss has worsened, with ten million hectares of forests cut down globally between the years 2015 and 2020, for industrial and agricultural use. Pesticides have led to soil erosion and water depletion, and plant varieties that have existed for generations have also been substituted by highly uniform and commercial varieties. 

In addition, the growing use of antimicrobials in farm animals has become a major contributor to drug resistance. 

Shroff proposes that the upcoming UN 2021 Food Systems Pre-Summit shifts away from existing models that sideline real solutions, and instead focuses on a holistic and integrated response, bringing back an agro-ecological and biodiversity-based paradigm.

“This means farming in nature’s way, as co-creators, as co-producers with diversity, respecting nature’s ecological cycles, respecting people’s rights.” 

Food crisis worsened by COVID-19 

Inka Santala of Woolongong, Australia

A study conducted by the Community Economies Research Network (CERN) that examined the food systems of various countries during the pandemic, found that Finland, typically considered a relatively stable and secure state within the European Union, had several structural weaknesses in its food production and distribution systems in the early onset of COVID-19.  

Since the national recession of the 1990s, Finland has been heavily dependent on food aid distributed by local profit organizations, and has supported the import of products from overseas. 

However, COVID-19 restrictions and border closures placed even more pressure on already trained charity organizations, with their limited capacity, to respond to growing demand. 

This only fueled the currently inequitable and distracted food system, eventually escalating the unfolding climate crisis, said Inka Santala of Woolongong in Australia. 

Santala called for just and sustainable food systems during and post-pandemic to tackle the climate crisis. This includes more climate-friendly agricultural programs and support for organic farmers, subsidies to focus on social enterprises and local food initiatives, and the introduction of more progressive taxes that balance growing income inequalities. 

“It remains necessary to expand food systems not only locally, but also on a planetary scale, considering we are all sustained by the same biosystem.” 

Alternative community-based food systems turn food into ‘common good’  

Vegetable seller at Gosa Market in Abuja, Nigeria. Traditional markets provide access to healthy, fresh foods that play critical roles in feeding individuals and households globally.

With COVID-19 essentially hitting a ‘pause button’ on normal life, CERN researchers also found sustainable food systems that provided for those most vulnerable during the pandemic, and examined how such community-based programs could serve as a transitional process towards more just and equitable ways of dealing with the pandemic. 

This includes food distribution networks in cities such as Sydney that were able to coordinate and expand the use of emergency use provisioning, and the New Zealand National Food Network that redirected food surpluses to people who needed it most. 

There are also traditional markets, where food safety is well-assured, that support food security, local farm production, and more sustainable agro-ecosystems. 

Stephen Healy of Western Sydney University called these diverse forms of food systems a way of making food “common”, shifting the way we access resources that nourish, sustain, and protect us into a good that can be shared worldwide, and can be extended for the “common good”.

“The pandemic does offer us an opportunity to think about how mutuality can be made to endure through time.” 

Image Credits: Oxfam International/Flickr, Commons Wikimedia, SID, Michael Casmir, Pierce Mill Media.

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