Honoring soil guardians in the era of COVID-19 and climate change
Fertile soils are a synonym of hope in the midst of multiple ecological crises—including the current pandemic. Today they are in danger. Soils are living worlds, often invisible to our eyes but essential for the sustainability or our planet, which is why we must work together to protect them. More than a substrate for crops, soils are the source of life. That which ensures a plentiful supply of food. The hidden world under our feet that sustains the food that nourishes us. This is why agroecological principles focus primordially on taking good care of soils.
For this reason, I dedicate these words to those who guard the fertility of the soil, nourishing it daily so that it can feed and sustain our towns and cities. To those small-scale farmers that wake up early each morning to prepare the land for the production of food. Their relationship with soil is deeply intertwined with the practice of taking care of their local territories. When small-scale farmers take care of the land from a productive point of view, they are also taking care of their local territory in its cultural, economic and political dimensions, what not only provides them with the conditions to survive but allows them to live life with dignity.
The adverse effects of climate change are impacting small-scale farmers of the Global South in differentiated and significant ways. Agriculture, food sovereignty, and smallholder communities worldwide are at imminent risk mainly because of how close they are to the natural world. Rather than bringing new vulnerabilities, global environmental changes will exacerbate the problems that small-scale farmers already face. Similar to how COVID-19 has exacerbated our underlying and structural vulnerabilities. We require of proper responses to protect the most vulnerable and marginalized human groups, as well as other non-humans such as the soil, acknowledging our interdependence.
Over the past few weeks, analysts and experts have discussed the critical situation that food systems face at the global and local levels. The disarticulation of the supply chain, the changes in the demand for products, the insufficient infrastructure of roads and communication for the distribution of food, the lack of recognition of the small-scale farmers and their contribution of almost 70% to the food of the world—and Colombia, the concentration of the supply centers, and the health of farmers, are among the multiple problems that have been highlighted. The deep concern around the possibility of a food crisis, plus a climate and now a health crisis, requires of a profound transformation into hope and action, focused on delivering structural responses to rethink our food system, and therefore to guarantee the well-being and a dignified life to all—humans and non-humans.
We need to learn the lesson. We need to stop thinking about going back to normal after the pandemic, and start moving forward by putting into practice the experiences of small-scale farmers that have adopted agroecological principles to produce food while taking care of the environment, life, soil, and their local territories. Among many examples in Colombia, I would like to highlight the role of food networks and food initiatives such as the Red Nacional de Agricultura Familiar (National Network of Family Agriculture) and Red Nacional de Abastecimiento Agroalimentario de Colombia (National Network of agrifood supply), two organizations that recognize the fundamental role of small-scale farming in the food supply of Colombia.
According to FAO, "agroecology offers local solutions and empowers local economies and markets by keeping farmers in the field with improved livelihoods and a better quality of life.” It is for this reason that it is urgent to adopt policies that recognize agroecology as a viable strategy to respond to the food emergency that is on the horizon by highlighting its social and ecological principles such as solidarity, the regeneration of life, and the promotion of the social fabric. Agroecological initiatives also generate local, diversified and solidarity-based food systems that take protect the environment, enhance small-scale farmers' livelihood, strengthen territorial and community food autonomy, and promote solidarity-based economies.
Crises bring change. Many grassroots organizations and movements are trying to seize the moment by proposing and implementing alternatives to food systems. This crisis is an opportunity to think about the importance of the micro-universe under our feet and to recognize its guardians. Re-nourishing the land requires time and patience, recognizing small-scale farmers as the guardians of the soil is a first step towards fostering a more just and resilient future, that will allow us to move from a destructive food system based on conventional agriculture, to one based on agroecological principles that increases our resilience, rebuilds ecosystems, supports local and fair food systems, strengthens local communities, and promotes proximity circuits, bringing together producers and consumers who are more aware of the importance of soil and more willing to take good care of it.