16 March 2020
As the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) continues to wreak havoc on thousands of lives and millions of livelihoods across the world, we call on governments to exert all efforts to ensure the food security of the people, especially those from the most vulnerable sectors. We also urge that initiatives to monitor and test for possible coronavirus infection be made available to those in the rural communities and afford the people timely treatment. We note that while the new coronavirus could infect and impact anyone, it must be emphasized that the effects of the pandemic are far more magnified for the poor, including the rural people. Lastly, we warn against using the current public health crisis to legitimize more state repression of the people’s fundamental rights.
Protect food security from speculative attacks amid pandemic
We are deeply concerned that the COVID-19 pandemic is creating conditions conducive to a potential surge in food prices that would aggravate the already grim situation being faced by an increasing number of countries and peoples worldwide. There is now heightened speculation on the impact of the virus outbreak on global supply chains,production and trade, including a possible recession. Fear mongering is already weighing down on major financial markets such as the Dow Jones, NASDAQ and theS&P 500 with daily and weekly declines last seen during the 2008 global financial and economic meltdown.
Speculators led by the financial oligarchs in the industrial countries could hedge their losses in volatile stocks, like tech and industrials, to food commodities. As we have seen during the so-called Great Recession of more than a decade ago when food prices went up to unprecedented levels, massive speculation could trigger dramatic food price hikes. With factory shutdowns as well as lockdowns and travel restrictions that hamper the mobility of labor and goods as much as they attempt to rein in the unbridled spread of the new coronavirus, the supply and prices of food and agricultural commodities are vulnerable to the onslaught of speculative capital, with tremendous consequences for the poor.
In China, there is fear that the planting season that is set to begin this month might be affected by the COVID-19 crisis. A missed or delayed planting season could mean production shortfall, less domestic supply to meet demand, and later, potentially greater pressure on global food markets. As it is, China is already the world’s second largest importer of food, behind the US, which is also now reeling from the impact of the fast-spreading new corona virus. The same thing is true for other top food importing countries in the world with the highest COVID-19 cases such as Italy, Germany, France and Japan. Food production and supply may or may not be actually affected but speculators, ever voracious for easy profits, only need a tinge of uncertainty to prey on.
Furthermore, at the national and local levels, the situation of anxiety is favorable for profiteering traders to hoard food and food commodities to artificially drive up prices. This is further aggravated by panic buying of food by those who have the means to do so. Poor consumers, including those who directly produce food but have barely enough to buy even their daily food requirements, are left to suffer even greater hunger.
We call on governments and regulators to proactively address the very real possibility of food price spikes due to speculation and outright hoarding as we face this serious public health crisis. We encourage them to reverse neoliberal policies in food and agriculture that substantially weakened, if not totally eliminated, the sovereign power of the state to ensure the people’s food security, including on regulatory policies in relation to trade and prices as well as production support to direct food producers, especially the small farmers. At this time of a worldwide pandemic, governments must be equipped with the necessary and effective powers to protect the food security of the people from global speculative attacks by the financial oligarchs and illicit practices by local traders and cartels.
Protect the rural people from coronavirus infection
Meanwhile, the access of rural people to monitoring and diagnosis for new coronavirus infection should be ensured as well by public officials and health authorities. At present, such monitoring and testing appear to be concentrated mainly in the urban centers. But as the outbreak reaches pandemic proportions and local human-to-human transmission becomes increasingly widespread, the public health system should be reinforced to allow the monitoring of the spread of COVID-19 in the rural areas and provide timely treatment.
Rural people, who comprise the poorest of the poor, are more vulnerable as they lack access to basic social services and protection, including for health care and medical intervention. Most of them have no stable and reliable sources of income. With many governments slashing public budgets for health, closing down public hospitals and favoring neoliberal privatization of health services, the rural people are especially defenseless against outbreaks of diseases. In fact, even before and without the COVID-19, many people in the rural areas are already dying from preventable and curable diseases. This is the reality even in the biggest industrial countries like the US; and obviously way worse in the backward economies.
Protect people’s rights at all times
We remind the world’s political leaders to give due regard to and respect at all times the economic, social, cultural, political and civil rights of the people in designing and implementing various measures to contain the further spread of the new coronavirus. We warn against efforts by authoritarian regimes to use the COVID-19 to legitimize and introduce more repressive actions and policies against the people.
Instead of the wanton and massive deployment of police and military forces to supposedly impose peace and order, we call on governments to deploy more health workers, including mobilizing community health workers and volunteers, to combat the COVID-19 through monitoring, diagnosis and treatment. This requires pouring more state resources to the public health sector and upholding the people’s right to health.
Vulnerable sectors of society, including ordinary wage earners, farmers and agricultural workers, whose income and livelihood are impacted by the pandemic should receive sufficient and dependable government assistance that would support them in achieving their right to decent living even amid the crisis.
The new coronavirus pandemic highlights the central role that the public sector must play in ensuring that the rights of the people are protected. Unfortunately, this mandate has been eroded in a systematic way by neoliberalism. Thus, as we assert the urgent demand to protect the people’s right to food, health, livelihood, etc. amid the crisis,we reiterate the call that neoliberal reforms that have long undermined the public sector must be immediately reversed.
Finally, we stand in solidarity with all those afflicted with the COVID-19 and salute those in the frontlines battling the disease – the courageous medical and health workers. As they risk their own safety to confront the new coronavirus and prevent further harm to the people, we call on the authorities and the public to show support by ensuring that the medical and health workers have what they need, including personal protective equipment, to carry out their duty. ###
Ms. Sarojeni Rengam, Executive Director, PAN Asia Pacific
Ms. Razan Zuayter, Global Co-chair, People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty
Ms. Sylvia Mallari, Global Co-chair, People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty
PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP) is a regional network based in Penang, Malaysia. It has more than 100 partner organizations across the region. Among its advocacies are advancing food sovereignty and asserting the people’s rights to land and livelihood.
People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) is a global network of various grassroots groups of small food producers particularly of peasant-farmer organizations and their support NGOs, working towards a People’s Convention on Food Sovereignty.