The last few months have shown us just how important our Pesticide Action Network (PAN) global network motto, "A healthy world for all," actually is.
For months, people all over the world have been doing their best to cope with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. While in some countries a gradual relaxing of lockdown restrictions are being implemented and people are experiencing a return to some normality, in other regions high infection and death rates continue.
At our PAN offices around the world, we have all had different experiences during the crisis. We are filled with sadness at the suffering we have seen. But we are also impressed by the great willingness to help and solidarity of people across the globe.
Mutual aid around the world
We also support each other and our partners within our PAN network.
Our colleagues at PAN Asia and the Pacific (PANAP) are helping to mitigate the consequences of the crisis on the food security and livelihoods of millions of rural workers in particularly affected communities. They have been standing up for agricultural workers who are especially impacted by the crisis, and demanding compliance with labor rights for migrant workers. They also launched a COVID-19 campaign to expose the real situation through the “Food and Rights Talk” which is a series of interviews with PANAP partners to highlight what rural peoples are navigating in relation to food security and human rights.
In Africa, thousands of organic cotton farmers have spent money on seeds and worked hard for months to produce the best cotton without using harmful pesticides. As supply chains in the textile industry are disrupted by the pandemic, our UK and African colleagues in the PAN network are working together to find solutions for these farmers and their families, including pivoting from cotton exports to food production for local communities.
This is precisely where PAN Africa comes in, raising awareness of the need for a resilient food system —especially in the face of the pandemic — among the countries of West Africa. Our colleagues in Senegal are supporting farmers as they implement more resilient and sustainable production practices which also increase production and thus improve farmer income.
Agroecology builds resilience
It is well known that agroecological cultivation methods are more resilient in the face of climate change impacts. Diverse farming systems, such as organic cotton cultivation in which cotton is grown in a rotation with other crops such as hibiscus, fonio, cashew and sesame, are proving to be more resilient in the face of this crisis as well. As markets for certain cash crops have suddenly collapsed, farmers have been able to quickly shift to focus on the production of food crops.
In the face of the food system disruptions created by the pandemic, PAN Latin America (RAPAL) has shifted to focus on promoting local production using agroecological practices through radio programs, videos, posters, webinars, written materials and even telephone networks. RAPAL has produced a series of video workshops to encourage production of food in urban areas as well as self-production of seeds.
Meanwhile, our partners at PAN North America (PANNA) in the U.S. are working to ensure that federal emergency money actually reaches farmers who are growing food, and does not trickle away to the giant agricultural corporations. They are working with partners to support investments in more resilient food systems, including healthy soils and localized food production. They are also drawing attention to the particular risks faced by agricultural workers in the pandemic, and are committed to reducing the systemic injustices that are rooted in our food and agricultural system.
A risky, unjust system
Whether in North America, Africa, Asia or Europe, all over the world the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the weaknesses of our industrial food system. Industrial animal farming, which has long been criticized for its poor animal husbandry conditions and the large quantities of pharmaceuticals used, is now in the public spotlight.
From Germany in North Rhine-Westphalia to the states of Minnesota, Iowa or Arkansas, huge slaughterhouses are documenting high infection rates among the most precariously employed and poorly housed. Other workers who had hardly been noticed by society in the past, such as migrant workers and agricultural laborers, are suddenly recognized as "system relevant” or “essential” workers in the crisis.
The pandemic has revealed how badly we treat these workers, who are often without contracts, without social security, often in contact with highly hazardous pesticides, underpaid and also poorly housed in the fields and in the plantations and greenhouses of the world, working hard for the food we all eat.
Much is expected to change now. As representatives of civil society, we at PAN are committed to making a fairer agricultural and food system a reality.
Moving forward, not back
This includes that we in the PAN network resist efforts to exploit the pandemic to delay, dilute or undermine necessary reforms in environmental protection, biodiversity protection and agricultural policy.
RAPAL is working actively to block entry of new transgenic crops into Chile and reduction of import tariffs on pesticides in Argentina. PANNA is fighting rollbacks of pesticide rules in the U.S., moving forward even more quickly during the pandemic. Across the network, we are supporting efforts led by our colleagues at PAN UK to ensure UK pesticide laws will not be badly weakened due to “Brexit” as they leave the EU.
But there is good news as well. Together with PAN India, we are celebrating the announcement to ban 27 highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs) in the country. Here in Europe, we are involved in the European Citizens' Initiative "Save Bees and Farmers" in cooperation with numerous European partner organizations and supporters. We advocate that the EU initiates a real change — away from the use of pesticides and towards agroecological farming — and provides guidance and support to farmers in the process. All EU citizens can call for this with their vote.
The Farm to Fork Strategy for a friendly food system and the new EU Biodiversity Strategy give us hope as well. They pursue the goals of reducing the use of chemical pesticides and the associated risk by 50% by 2030, reducing more hazardous pesticides by 50% and replacing them with agroecological methods, and boosting the development of EU organic farming area with the aim to achieve 25% of the total farmland under organic farming by 2030.
We urgently need to move away from dependence on chemical pesticides to more diverse farming systems that don’t include the exploitation of workers. We must leave future generations with an environment that does not cause sickness, and in which there is healthy soil and enough biodiversity to produce good harvests and to live well.
This article also appears in German on the PAN Germany website.
Photo: CIFOR | Flickr