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The Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience's Response to COVID-19

The Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience's Response to COVID-19

In addition to the serious implications for people's health and healthcare services, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is having a significant worldwide impact on peoples’ access to food and water. Researchers at the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR) have been exploring policy and practical options for ensuring food and water security in these unprecedented times. CAWR’s research also focuses on how food production and distribution need to be transformed to reduce the risks of future pandemics.

Ways of working

CAWR is now working mostly remotely, and maintaining a strong research community through virtual meetings and online interactions. Several CAWR staff have been involved in UK-based and global on-line policy dialogues and webinars with their peers. Researchers are concentrating on writing and bid development. Some staff are re-designing their research methods for live projects, especially where face-to-face interviews or focus groups with participants were planned. Other CAWR staff who are deemed essential workers (whose work can only be performed on university premises) in nationally critical research projects continue to conduct field trials and lab analysis. All large projects now have COVID-19 risk mitigation measures in place and those which were about to start (e.g. AGROMIX) have been pushed back by 6 months.

Practical Assistance provided

Feeding Coventry: With the rapidly unfolding coronavirus crisis, local community organisations dealing with food provision for vulnerable groups have reported a drastic increase in the number of people turning to them for support. Feeding Coventry, a local charity whose work has been supported by researchers at CAWR, launched a Social Supermarket a few days before the national lockdown came into place. Its aim is to provide affordable and healthy food to support those in need to move out of crisis situations, in empowering and dignified ways.

Expert evidence to support UK government response to Covid-19: A number of CAWR staff are included in the UK government’s Covid-19 Parliamentary Expert Database to provide insights and evidence that can inform responses and preparations for longer term challenges.

Preventing future coronavirus pandemics

Managing diverse landscapes to limit the spread of coronaviruses: Working with partners around the world, CAWR is exploring the contributions that the territories and areas governed, managed and conserved by custodian indigenous peoples and local communities - a complex phenomenon abbreviated as ‘ICCAs – territories of life’ - can make to reversing the extensive habitat fragmentation and loss of biodiversity that has enabled COVID-19 and other coronaviruses to cross species barriers – as their natural habitats disappear, coronaviruses more easily leap from their wild animal hosts to humans.

Diversifying production, decentralisation, and short food chains: The national lock-down saw an increase in demand for produce from local community agriculture schemes, vegetable box schemes, as well as local milk and meat producers. The vulnerability and inequities of industrial agriculture and long-distance supply chains have been massively exposed. The current pandemic crisis has led to unprecedented calls to support local, sustainable farming to replace the monocrop-focused status quo, and thereby relieve pressure on soil and wildlife while creating better, safer jobs in the food system.

CAWR’s ongoing research on the design of diverse agroecosystems (agroforestry, intercrops, mixed farming…) can generate farming landscapes with inbuilt natural barriers to the spread of diseases. Similarly, our work on decentralised short food chains and the re-localisation of food systems offers more just and resilient alternatives to long-distance supply chains. Lastly, CAWR’s research on agroecological and biodiverse livestock systems offers safer and cleaner production alternatives to intensive pig and cattle factory-farming which can be major hotspots for the spread of coronaviruses. For further details see: CAWR’s special issue COVID-19 newsletter and Agroecology Now.

Water security and sustainability: The spread of many transmittable pathogens, including coronaviruses, is closely related to the availability of, and access to, water and sanitation. Regular hand-washing reduces transmission of COVID-19 and other pathogens. However, with water shortages and inequities in access to safe water this is not always straightforward, especially in rural, disadvantaged, or displaced communities. CAWR’s research on water and drainage in refugee camps and informal settlements, contamination of water supplies by new and emerging pollutants, as well as its research on the impacts of global and regional climate change on water availability and scarcity, provides knowledge needed to reduce and mitigate the adverse impacts of water inequities in future pandemics.

Enabling democracy and inclusion in responses to COVID-19: As part of their public engagement work, researchers are actively participating in critical reflections on how to make the governance of food and water more responsive to the needs of people and the planet. Several CAWR researchers have recently supported a global call for deep institutional changes to address the impacts of the crisis in the context of rising inequities, food insecurity, and rapid climate change. This was published as an op-ed in 41 newspapers in 36 countries around the world on 16 May 2020. Others in CAWR are working with the Civil Society Mechanism (CSM) of the UN Committee on World Food Security to produce a synthesis report of the impacts of COVID-19 on food systems. The report will include an overview of community and solidarity responses to the pandemic, and make proposals for a coordinated global policy response to advance the right to food for all.

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