Food today, a new food system tomorrow


Amrita Gupta, Anna Lappé and Daniel Moss


Alongside a public health emergency, Covid-19 has unleashed a staggering spike in global hunger. More than a quarter of a billion people are expected to face acute food insecurity as a result of the pandemic. Among the hardest hit are Black, brown, and Indigenous small-scale food producers – and the consumers they feed – from countries already scarred by colonialism, import dependence, and the climate crisis. Yet, these are the very people who are leading movements to address the roots of hunger while responding to the disruptions wrought by Covid-19. 

Recognising the precarity of an industrial food system that drives farmers into debt and poisons their soil and water, these producers are increasingly embracing agroecology – a way of farming that coexists with natural ecosystems to produce healthy food. At the Agroecology Fund, we acted swiftly to support their mutual aid and solidarity responses to Covid-19 – channeling nearly $1 million through an emergency fund to 59 grassroots organisations across five continents earlier this year.

In the process, we learned several key lessons on how to respond to an acute crisis, while deepening transformative change.

Lesson 1: Take the lead from grassroots organisations and BIPOC communities

Traditional grantmaking deliberations often place an onerous burden on grassroots groups with limited resources for funder engagement. Funders must make their decision-making processes more equitable and expedient. For this emergency fund, we simplified requests for proposals, and streamlined grant disbursements. But making funding processes more accessible is critical beyond moments of crisis. We stand with our peers calling for such transformations in philanthropic practices, including the US-based network HEAL Food Alliance, which urged food systems funders to do more to center racial equity and resource BIPOC communities who are already scaling critical solutions.

Lesson 2: Support food sovereignty and food security

Last month, the United Nations’ World Food Programme was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for providing food aid to almost 100 million vulnerable people globally. While a powerful recognition of just how urgent food security is, food aid – too often consisting of imported genetically modified (GMO) grains, ultra-processed foods, and surplus commodities – actually undermines local economies and small food producers.

For nearly a decade, the Agroecology Fund has prioritised food security without compromising food sovereignty – the right of peoples to determine what they eat and how it is produced. Social movements like our partner, La Via Campesina, representing 200 million peasants worldwide, remind us that we can only end hunger by supporting the small producers who already feed the majority of the world’s population. 

Increasingly, governments and UN agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Environment Programme (UNEP) endorse principles of agroecology. It is becoming clearer to policymakers that strengthening local resilience means supporting communities to grow and distribute emergency relief in times of crisis even as they steward ecosystems and ensure a sustainable food supply through the year.

Lesson 3: Invest in long-term resilience

To some, addressing the Covid-19 hunger crisis may seem an impossible trade off between providing urgently needed handouts or investing in long-term solutions. Our emergency grantees show it’s possible to rapidly mobilise mutual aid while strengthening long-term food security in their communities. 

From the Philippines to Argentina, through interventions as diverse as online marketplaces and microcredit programs, our grassroots partners are helping their communities’ weather the crisis and build resilience. In Zimbabwe, when market closures left thousands of farmers stuck with perishable produce, our grantee Pelum Zimbabwe mapped local supply chains to reveal healthy food options to consumers and policymakers. In India, Amrita Bhoomi launched a producers’ cooperative so farmers could supply healthy, locally grown food at fair prices.

Grantees we support have also been working to shape the policy response to the crisis. In Brazil, for example, the Landless Workers Movement (MST) has been advocating for public procurement sourced from agroecological farmers. 

Lesson 4: Tap the power of pooled funds

Faced with the scale of today’s interlocking crises, collective action is essential. Pooled funds help individual donors move swiftly to make well-informed investments. Groups like ours – a pooled fund of more than 30 donors – and other networks including Thousand Currents and Grassroots International have deep connections to social movements that can help steer resources towards transformational change. As one of our fund donors said, ‘On my own, I would never know which grassroots groups in the Philippines or Brazil or Uganda to support to address the food crises unfolding there.’

Pooled funds also help generate positive peer pressure among collaborating organisations to give more. Promisingly, many of our peers are offering matching grants, disentangling donations from asset returns, and even initiating spend downs in response to this global crisis.

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Today’s challenges are immense; tomorrow’s will be no less so. We must work together to fund grassroots-led humanitarian relief and activism that builds toward lasting, systemic change, ensuring our charitable dollars function not as a Band-Aid, but as part of a global effort to eradicate the roots of hunger in all its complexity.

Amrita Gupta leads communications at the Agroecology Fund and Daniel Moss is its executive director. Anna Lappé directs the food and democracy program of the Panta Rhea Foundation and is a member of the fund.

Tagged in: Funding practice

Comments (1)

Viji Varadarajan

Crucial issue facing the world today. We must be made aware of new facts emerging each day as this Pandemic has been sweeping the world beyond the human capacity to manage. I only hope and pray it does not go beyond tragic proportions. A new set of knowledge should emerge as the old order is slowly fading away into oblivion.

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