We are leaders and members of the Asian Farmers’ Association for Sustainable Rural Development, with 20 member organizations and cooperatives in 16 countries  in Asia, comprising around 13 million small scale women and men family farmers, fishers, forest dwellers, indigenous peoples, pastoralists, and herders. As a regional family farmers’ organization, we work with partner Farmers’ Organizations in 11 more countries in the Asia-Pacific through projects like MTCP2-AFOSP supported by the International Fund For Agricultural Development (IFAD), European Union (EU), and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) as well as through projects with Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP), International Land Coalition (ILC), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Forest and Farm Facility (FFF), and World Rural Forum (WRF), reaching 30 million more family farmers. We likewise engage inter-governmental bodies such as the ASEAN in Southeast Asia and the SAARC Agriculture Center in South Asia.
As of March 30, 2020, all our 27 covered countries have not been spared from the spread of COVID-19. All have confirmed positive cases with the majority reporting deaths caused by COVID-19. Some countries have experienced partialor total lockdowns, or travel bans. All our governments have advised us to stay home, do social/physical distancing, do personal hygiene and etiquette and limit mass gatherings in order to contain and prevent the further spread and to flatten the curve of COVID-19 cases.
From virtual meetings and exchanges in the past two weeks, our members and partners have realized that the COVID-19 issue is multi-dimensional, covering not only health but also economic, food and nutrition security as well as peace and order. We are asked to wash our hands often with soap and water, but in many urban and rural communities, clean water is a scarce resource. Many local family farmers in locked-down areas are unable to bring their products to the markets during this harvest season because of strict, confusing transportation protocol. Since many family farmers do not have sufficient cooling and storage facilities, they are forced to dump their vegetables. Thus, many of them may have less income to spare after this harvest season. As agriculture products are also traded at the region and globally, supply and demand factors give rise to the prices of fruits and vegetables. Some exporting countries are mulling over not to export to ensure food security in their country. Still, some worry that they cannot export because of strict transportation and quarantine procedures amidst the harvest season in many Asian countries. Many Asian countries rely on imported food, and locked down exporting countries cannot bring their products . In the cities and towns, this may mean also hunger as food will become less accessible and affordable.
In countries with lockdown and quarantine, the most affected sectors are the landless farmers, daily wage earners and the informal sector in the cities and rural areas as they are most worried about how to earn to buy their food and pay for their bills and utilities and as their housing conditions will prove difficult to practice social distancing. Those with regular and secured income and stay in more spacious homes worry whether there will be enough food supply and whether these foods can be readily available and affordable. Thus, healthy food during this crisis can become less accessible, less affordable, and less available. And when food is scarce, the likelihood of hunger and food riots becomes stronger.
We laud our governments’ efforts in responding to the challenges and difficulties these most vulnerable sectors face: public procurement of rice, fruits, and vegetables for emergency food assistance, mobile food stores, emergency cash assistance for those without incomes during lockdowns, categorizing farmers, food producers, marketers and suppliers as frontliners and therefore exempted from transportation suspension. These along massive social-awareness on COVID-19, mass testing, beefing up of the health workforce and the treatment facilities for COVID-19 patients.
We are very happy to note that our governments are now increasingly realizing that it is important to be more and more reliant on domestic food production rather than on agriculture exports. We family farmers have a strong role to play during this time. We can continue to work on our farms to produce healthy and safe food while our fellow citizens stay at home. Our organizations and cooperatives can process our produce, and supply food to locked-down areas. For example, SEWA in India makes improvised face masks for their members to use while in the fields; it also distributes food and seed packs for vulnerable households. API in Indonesia does online delivery of rice, and PAKISAMA in the Philippines is starting to do the same with rice and vegetables.
Every crisis presents an opportunity. COVID-19 made governments more responsible, citizens more assertive in claim-making, the air cleaner, families bonding stronger, global citizens in solidarity, praying for the sick, for the frontliners and for each one, and crying together for those who fell. Citizens realize again the value of farmers producing local, healthy food and governments the value of becoming more and more self-reliant in terms of agriculture production.
Our organizations and cooperatives can strengthen our/family farmers’ capacities to play our utmost role in providing food and nutrition security to our fellow citizens. However, we remain challenged to upscale our local efforts. Thus, we call on our governments and development partners to support our endeavors: (1) in raising awareness on COVID-19 in our communities especially on who to call for emergency assistance; (2) in acting as local governments’ partners in the distribution of emergency food and cash assistance; (3) in increasing agricultural productivity through agro ecological and climate-resilient approaches and systems as well as ensuring supply of seeds and other production inputs; (4) in processing and distribution of food through post-harvest and transportation facilities as well as access to finance; (5) in strengthening capacities in policy and program engagement with local government units for water, health and sanitation facilities as well as agri policies during and post COVID-19 crisis; and (6) in regular communications and sharing of experiences to learn from good practices and capture lessons learned.
We firmly believe that when family farmers are regarded as frontliners and key actors during and post COVID-19, countries can be on track in implementing SDG1 (no poverty) and SDG 2 (end hunger, promote food security and sustainable agriculture) and fully supportive of the UN Decade on Family Farming (UNDFF).
This article was originally published by Asian Farmers Association.