Home > Covid-19 > A Crisis within a Crisis – COVID-19 and resilient food systems.

The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting lives and livelihoods across the globe, as well as affecting all aspects of development and humanitarian activities.

Misean Cara’s Livelihoods Officer Don Lucey reflects on how the pandemic has underlined the importance of a robust and resilient food system.

Over the last six months, Misean Cara members all over the world have been adapting their projects to the impact of COVID-19. Saint Patrick’s Missionary Society in Kenya distributed food and soap to daily workers who could no longer work due to the government’s lockdown measures. In Kenya, people’s daily income is down 25%; more than 1 in 2 people are missing meals, while reporting of domestic violence has gone up by 50%, according to the Kenya Covid Tracker.

In Nigeria, reallocated funds went towards enabling 180 ‘Sharing Education and Learning for Life’ (SELL) facilitators and community volunteers living in seven states in the North Eastern part of Nigeria, it provided them with access to food, fertilizer, COVID-19 awareness materials, hand sanitizers, facemasks and other hygiene and sanitation items required to deal with the threat of COVID-19 in the community.

There are many other examples as well such as the Notre Dame des Missions Sisters in Myanmar who, with Emergency funding from Misean Cara, worked with the local authorities and supported 220 households with food, masks and soap.

Food distribution were organised by the Salesians across India when the pandemic broke out.

Thanks to emergency funding from Misean Cara, the Salesian Fathers were able to reach 4,200 destitute and marginalised people and migrant workers across India who had no means to feed themselves due to the lockdown which stopped their precarious daily wage.

The pandemic has made me acutely aware of the interrelation between our health, ecosystems, supply chains, consumption patterns and the Earth’s limited natural resources.

We need to do much more to keep ourselves and the planet healthy, to create sustainable livelihoods for communities so that they can feed their families through this pandemic and into the future.

The increasing recurrence of droughts, floods, forest fires and new pests are a constant reminder that our food system and livelihoods are under threat and must become more sustainable and resilient.

It’s against this backdrop that Misean Cara has committed to investing in agriculture in order to increase household income, food security and nutrition and protect the environment. In Misean Cara we understand the importance of food systems and if they fail, we know all too well the resulting disorder threatens the education of our children (especially girls), the health and livelihoods of the people that Misean Cara members are supporting, as well as their human rights, peace and security. As in so many cases, those who are already poor or marginalized are the most affected by a crisis.

In Malawi, the Jesuit Centre for Ecology and Development (JCED), in collaboration with the local government structure of Kasungu District Council, are building Resilience of Farming Communities to the impacts of climate change.

Martha Phiri (left), a Project Officer at JCED, spends time with a local woman using a ceramic cookstove materials in Malawi

The project includes sustainable agricultural practices which are taught through farmer field schools, tree planting, water harvesting and the use of energy efficient stoves which actually produce electricity. Over 3,300 households are now using these energy efficient cook-stoves for cooking and heating. The excess heat energy is converted to electric energy and able to light at least 3 rooms in their houses, charge their mobile phones and power small radios.

Yet today, the world’s current food systems are failing many people, for the environment, and for our shared future. With less than 10 years to 2030, many of the 17 SDGs remain far out of reach. In many cases, unsafe or unsustainable food systems are part of the problem. Hundreds of millions of people are hungry, with tens of millions more at risk due to the impact of COVID-19, even as one third of all food is either lost or wasted.

Members of the Ayia Women’s Group water their onion crop in Offaka sub-county in Uganda.

The Covid pandemic has had a significant impact on Misean Cara’s worldview. Events which affect the sustainability of food systems do not necessarily stem from the food supply chain itself but can be triggered by political, economic, environmental or health crises and vulnerable subsistence farmers depend on a sustainable food system to ensure sufficient and varied supply of safe, nutritious, affordable and sustainable food to people at all times.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the strain on sustainable food systems, placing  both food security and livelihoods at even greater risk.

A crisis within a crisis

Misean Cara members report that this Covid 19 is a ‘Hunger virus’ and ‘a crisis within a crisis’ which affects the most vulnerable in our society.

The vast majority live in rural areas, and depend on agricultural production, seasonal jobs in agriculture, fishing, or pastoralism. If they become ill or constrained by restrictions on movement or activity (as has happened during the Covid lockdowns), they are prevented from working their land, caring for their animals, going fishing, or accessing markets to sell produce, buy food, or get seeds and supplies.

This situation is unparalleled globally and these vulnerable people face increasing threats every year from recurring droughts, increased floods, forest fires, biodiversity loss and new pests such as the locust infestation in East Africa.

The UN are also aware of this. Dr Agnes Kalibata, the Special Envoy to the UN Food Systems Summit and Global Panel Member noted:

“Single hazards are a major challenge to reducing poverty and malnutrition, but the combined impact of multiple hazards can be devastating. COVID-19 has further amplified these and risks pushing fragile food systems further into nutritional crisis.”

Holistic approach to livelihoods

This pandemic highlights how much we depend on each other, for our health and economic systems, as well as for our food systems, all the way from how we produce food to the supply chains that bring it to our homes. Indeed, as highlighted in the Secretary-General’s recent Policy Brief, food systems directly employ over 1 billion people.

Esther from Makere village, Wenje, Kenya collecting vegetables from her irrigation plot

But in every crisis, there is also opportunity and innovation. The Good Shepherds quickly responded in Embu Kenya by restarting the Sanitiser and Detergent production unit to help prevent and fight the Covid-19 pandemic in the local hospital and community of 10,000 people, with support from Misean Cara. The project started producing Hand sanitizer, Detergent and Disinfectant which was in short supply. They also distributed ‘’COVID-19 prevention kits’’ to local households which included sanitizer, face masks and gloves.

Employees making much needed PPE masks for the local hospital in Embu Kenya

Local leaders in Embu were also involved in disseminating information about prevention of Covid 19 such as washing hands and social distancing.

It is comforting to know that Misean Cara members can respond in such a timely, flexible and focused manner to not only assist the local hospital and community to control this virus but also to create local employment, enable communities to be self-sufficient and to build sustainable futures.