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As the COVID 19 pandemic threatens global good health and well-being, World Health Day is a timely reminder that the health of soils, plants, animals, humans and the planet are one and indivisible.

We cannot be sure when the COVID 19 pandemic will come to an end. For many this is a crisis like never experienced before, yet for millions more, living in crisis is part of daily life. At the same time, we see what the power of coming together can achieve, the difference swift action can make and the harm dilly-dallying can do. Once we have overcome COVID 19, let’s apply this urgency for action and show of solidarity to other global challenges, for example, by transforming the way we grow and consume food.

Livelihoods at risk

It seems like staying safe and healthy is on our minds now more than ever before. The pandemic is likely to have a devastating impact on livelihoods as well as food and nutrition security. FAO is particularly worried about the “impacts on vulnerable communities already grappling with hunger or other crises – the Desert Locust outbreak in the Horn of Africa, insecurity in Yemen or the Sahel, for example – as well as countries that rely heavily on food imports, such as Small Islands Developing States” and warns that for the 113 million people already facing severe food insecurity “the consequences could be drastic.”

Unfortunately, for the majority of the world’s farmers, particularly smallholders, this is one more crisis to deal with in addition to the climate crisis, poverty and biodiversity loss. The pandemic could increase the challenges smallholders already face accessing markets to sell their produce putting them at increased risk of poverty. Restrictions on movement also mean that seasonal laborers cannot work which affects livelihoods and food supply all round. Moreover, global food and nutrition security could be threatened further by spikes in food prices. The impact of an unequal world has far-reaching consequences.

Crisis shows need for change

Although these issues feel heightened at the moment, they also highlight aspects of the current food and agriculture sector that need to change, if we are to sustainably nourish current and future generations. Here, a sustainable food system based on the Principles of Organic Agriculture, health, ecology, fairness and care, would bring much-needed transformation to the good health and well-being of people and the planet.

As we celebrate World Health Day on April 7, let’s take a look at the Principle of Health. 

Health of people and planet

The Principe of Health sees the health of soil, plant, animal, human and planet as one and indivisible. In practice, this means working with nature to produce food with more healthy nutrients, less food additives and no harmful pesticides. When farming the land, organic farmers use diversification strategies such as intercropping techniques and crop rotation thus contributing to food and nutrition security by giving the communities they nourish greater access to a more diversified diet.

By avoiding the use of harmful synthetic inputs, organic agriculture safeguards the health of farmworkers and also helps protects the environment from toxins that can contaminate ground water and endanger biodiversity. Something governments can support by investing public money in public goods. In other words, spending public money in a way that benefits public health, wildlife and the climate instead of propping up a system where it is profitable to do just the opposite e.g. subsidizing the purchase of harmful inputs.

A crisis we can prevent

We currently find ourselves responding to a crisis that was hard to predict. The threats to global health as well as food and nutrition security posed by an unsustainable model of agriculture are a disaster waiting to happen, but one that we know about, a crisis we can prevent.

Here, policy-makers and citizens can take swift and far-reaching action to trigger change.

We can do this by:

Supporting the transition of farmers to using more sustainable practices such as those offered by organic agriculture e.g. policies on payment for ecosystem services.
Investing in post-harvest knowledge, storage, distribution, and a better infrastructure to help prevent food loss.
Facilitating better market access for farmers thereby increasing the availability of organic produce to local communities.
Helping to reduce food wastage by revising quality standards used to classify fruit and vegetables to focus on their nutritional value, not appearance and also by buying imperfect produce.
Choosing to buy seasonal, locally grown, organic produce.