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Rebuilding food systems after COVID

04 February 2021

The ongoing Covid 19 pandemic has led to many issues and has highlighted the unsustainable nature and inequality present in Thailand’s food system. This has become one of the driving forces for many of the problems we are now facing amidst this pandemic, namely food shortages and insecurities. It is therefore important that in the wake of this pandemic we focus on reshaping the food system so that we can rebuild and come back stronger than ever.

When the pandemic hit and Thailand, like many other countries, had to go into lockdown, we saw an increase in food insecurities for those of lower socioeconomic status, especially for those working in the tourism and agriculture sectors. 

Those working in the tourism industry lost their income and were unable to provide food for their families, at the same time many in the agriculture industry were unable to sell their produce due to disruptions in the supply chain. 

More problematically, many farmers themselves struggled to feed their own families despite having the skills and land needed to grow their own food. This is because the current food production system can be predominantly described as forest conversion towards monoculture agriculture. Many farmers have converted from subsistence farming to monoculture agriculture due to market direction and government subsidies influenced heavily by large agribusiness. Instead of growing food humans can eat, the farmers are now growing chemical-intensive maize used as animal feed. These farmers, therefore, have to rely on getting food from elsewhere.

Bald mountains’ in Chiang Mai Province, Thailand, formerly forest areas which were cleared and burned in order to create arable lands for monoculture crops such as maize. © Baramee Temboonkiat for WWF Thailand

In order to contribute to the fight against the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, WWF-Thailand and FLR349, along with partners like The Central Group of Companies, established the “Food Sharing for Love” project to create collective actions for collective impacts. The project sought food donations and raised funds to source various produce like herbs, vegetables, and fruits directly from the FLR349's farmers and its local organic farmers' network that are struggling due to the market closures and supply chain collapse. The food was then systematically distributed to the marginalised communities. 

Food delivered to marginalised communities. © WWF Thailand 

While "Food Sharing for Love" was successful, it is just a short term solution. 
Evidently, the entire food chain, from producers to consumer,  was impacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This isn’t just the case for Thailand.  Food and agriculture across Asia and the Pacific have been affected. The region needs to reshape its food system.

According to the The impact of COVID-19 on food and agriculture in Asia and the Pacific and FAO’s response” report, to do so we need to strengthen and increase flexibility across the supply chain while also improving the relationship between farmers and financial institutions and increase access to new technologies.  To reshape the food system, efforts to halt ecosystem destruction, forest encroachment,  and harmful practices are needed. We need to restore degraded ecosystems and address risks in food production and value chains, while at the same time protect marginalised communities that depend on them. 

Moreover, to tackle the issue of food shortages and insecurities, improving food availability and access in a post COVID world, several factors need to be met. These include diversifying food production while increasing production of nutrition-sensitive foods, providing farmers with access to agricultural inputs, improving market linkages, and better traceability.

There is also a link between unsustainable food production and the spread of pandemics. COVID-19, and around 60% of human infectious diseases, are zoonotic diseases, meaning they originated from an animal source.  There is therefore high risk where there is close interaction between wildlife and agriculture production, especially if the agriculture has damaged natural ecosystems. 

In Thailand, monoculture agriculture is the largest driver of deforestation and forest encroachment. In just 50 years, forest coverage in Thailand has reduced from 43% to just 31%. Many hundreds of thousands of hectares of headwater forests have been destroyed and converted into monoculture agriculture, especially maize used as animal feed in livestock production. It is, therefore, imperative we halt the forest land conversion we are witnessing. 

Bald mountains’ in Chiang Mai Province, Thailand, formerly forest areas which were cleared and burned in order to create arable lands for monoculture crops such as maize. © Baramee Temboonkiat for WWF Thailand

In short, in the wake of the COVID pandemic, to reshape the food system, and for us to come back stronger and more prepared for future pandemics we have to
  • Halt deforestation
  • Restore degraded ecosystems 
  • Address risks in food production and value chains, while also protecting marginalised communities that depend on them
  • Diversify crop production 
  • Facilitate access to agricultural inputs
  • Enhance market linkages
  • Improve traceability.

These are all factors addressed by the FLR349 model.

In 2017, WWF Thailand launched the Sustainable Consumption and Production project and established the FLR349 model in the country’s northern provinces of Chiang Mai and Nan as a nature-based solution model that addresses the challenges created by unsustainable agricultural practices. The model encourages smallholder farmers to convert their monoculture operations into agroecology where perennial trees, fruit, vegetables and herbs are cultivated together in a mixed agriculture approach. This will contribute to the current and future of food security and the wellbeing of smallholder farmers, while increasing forest restoration, preserving farmland biodiversity, and limiting the adverse effects on the environment.

FLR349 project site. © Jittrapon Kaicome for WWF Thailand

Through the FLR349 model, incentives are created for monoculture farmers to turn their environmentally harmful agricultural practices into diverse crop production. This change will halt deforestation and restore degraded ecosystems while addressing societal problems by helping improve food security and wellbeing for the small farmers and marginalised communities. 

FLR349 small farmer household with their organically grown produce © Jittrapon Kaicome for WWF Thailand

FLR349 small farmer household with their organically grown produce © Jittrapon Kaicome for WWF Thailand

Through the partnerships the project has created, we are able to provide the small farmers with agricultural inputs and training needed for the conversion to be successful and sustainable while also using the market connections partners like The Central Group of Companies have to create a sustainable supply chain and marketplaces for the outputs. 

Help change the food system in Thailand so we can come back stronger from COVID and be more prepared for future pandemics via out Tae Jai fundraiser page at: www.taejai.com/en/d/flr349

Read the FAO report: www.fao.org/3/nd476en/nd476en.pdf
Media Contact
Abhinand Aryapratheep