Supporting Food Security in the time of Coronavirus 

A statement from the Southern Africa Food Lab Advisory Board

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted practically every area of our lives. The most direct impact has been from efforts to contain the spread of the virus. This has brought the dire state of our food system to the fore. 

Within days of the (initial) South African lockdown, a situation has arisen whereby poor people – as producers and traders – have been unable to continue to produce and sell, resulting in poor people being largely unable to readily access sufficient nutritious food. Access to such food is, of course, not only a matter of how much food is produced, but also about how and when it gets to people and what it costs to do so. 

The guiding principle of the Food Lab – that we act in an inclusive, participative and emergent manner to catalyse innovations and experimental action towards a thriving, just and sustainable food system – requires us to be deeply and effectively responsive to the COVID-19 crisis. 

The disconcerting reality facing every one of us is that it is impossible to know what a post-COVID world will look like. Trying to understand the system as a whole is not useful at the moment, or even possible, because right now the system is imploding. COVID-19 (and our responses to it) will have a profoundly transformative impact not only on our food system, but on our entire world. 

What we can do, right now, is observe and act – to the best of our ability – on what is happening to build sustainability and resilience in the institutions and networks that are essential to sustain life and community. 

For now, the Food Lab commits to highlighting the crisis being magnified in the food system, in particular in the informal food system, and to engaging to catalyse solutions. 

One key way we will do this is by availing our website as a portal for collating and curating related blog posts and articles. 

Another is by engaging actively in the phenomenal mobilisation that has been undertaken at various levels of society. Important examples include the Food Governance Community of Practice (CoP), facilitated by the University of the Western Cape and the Progressive Civil Society C19 Coalition. 

Discussions are moving rapidly and urgently, with intensive exchanges of information particularly as issues become clearer. Capacity is clearly needed to support these and make sense of opportunities. Whatever useful dialogues happen will happen as they arise from these emergent networks.  

As the Food Lab, we are directly entering into many such discussions, offering support where possible and actively exploring emerging possibilities. It is here that we are directing our resources. Such support may involve responding to immediate needs, facilitating connections from our considerable network and catalysing action that supports sustained access to good nutrition in vulnerable communities.

In time, there will be scope for a more bespoke contribution – for more focused, targeted and carefully facilitated conversations that respond to specific needs identified by practitioners in government, business, and civil society. 

Read more reflections on human rights, inequality and securing food systems by us and others, here.