From food systems to community leadership – how to re-build better from Covid-19

Published on 29 March 2021

Covid-19 has and continues to have devastating impacts on lives around the world with implications for global progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. As the world looks to recover from the pandemic, the latest IDS Bulletin considers what lessons there are from the crisis and the opportunity to ‘re-build back better’, so people who live in poverty or who are marginalised are not left behind.

Through a range of analyses and focused case studies, ‘Building a Better World: The Crisis and Opportunity of Covid-19’ provides evidence from countries including India, Sierra Leone, Kenya and Ethiopia on the impact of the pandemic on universal development challenges. These include health systems, food equity, social protection, gender equality and local governance.

The article focusing on the effects of Covid-19 on food systems across low- and middle-income countries food systems finds that future interventions need to target structural issues that limit people’s access to nutritious and diverse food, and be informed by a diverse set of opinions, including from the most marginalised. Also a pressing issue for marginalised populations is governance, with another article highlighting the important lessons in India that showed the vital role of trusted community leaders working more quickly and effectively with marginalised communities in Covid-19 crisis response than state authorities.

In the IDS Bulletin, researchers stress the importance of not losing sight of what is needed for longer-term resilience while addressing short-term needs during crisis response, and that through better preparation, vulnerable people will be more likely to withstand likely crises in the future.  Their analysis includes examples of resilience, experimentation, innovation, and collective action that demonstrate communities coming together to build forward differently.

In one such example, a street vendor from Gujarat living – like 45 percent of people in India – in an informal settlement and who, having not worked for four months due to Covid, was unable to feed her family of ten. With no financial help from the government and state food rations insufficient and insect covered, she was able to turn for help from the local community who self-mobilised to feed those in the informal economy with no income.

This example aligns to one from West Bengal where women in the informal economy were left with no way to feed themselves or their families and needed to build back their homes after Cyclone Amphan. With no state support for their rural community, they were able to secure work from the local village council who agreed to contract them to make face masks which were sold in bulk to bring income and food back to their community.

Recommendations for ‘re-building back better’

Based on the review of how communities had responded to the Covid crisis, and what had greatest positive impact, the IDS Bulletin editors developed a series of recommendations for donors and policy-makers for ‘re-building back better’:

  • Prioritise those furthest behind first, through inclusive and deliberative planning processes.
  • Think longer-term but lay the groundwork for transformative approaches in the immediate, short term response.
  • Localise strategies by responding to diverse and specific contexts and enabling collaboration
  • Coordinate with key actors and researchers across sectors, integrating perspectives, methods, and disciplines as needed.
  • Pursue and promote flexible, adaptive approaches that can respond to uncertainty and complexity.
  • Establish firm foundations for comprehensive social protection, strengthen health systems, and build the resilience of food systems.

Peter Taylor, Director of Research, Institute of Development Studies and IDS Bulletin co-editor, said:

“The Covid-19 global health emergency has caused disruption on a scale not seen in recent times. Meeting the Sustainable Development Goals was already going to be difficult but today, presents a formidable uphill challenge that requires us to abandon business as usual and think more radically in order to achieve the targets by 2030.

“The evidence in this IDS Bulletin reminds us of the enormity of the current crisis but it is also a rallying call for higher-income countries to remain faithful to their global commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals.  Working together to tackle these universal challenges will mean we will be better prepared and more resilient for the future.”

Mary McCarthy, Nutrition Lead, Development Cooperation and Africa Division, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Ireland and IDS Bulletin co-editor, said:

“The Irish concept of community solidarity – meitheal – captures the urgent need for committed and collective action by members of the global community to co-create a better future post-Covid-19.

“By resisting working in silos, strengthening the multilateral system and following the principles set out in this IDS Bulletin, international aid donors can help accelerate our efforts towards meeting the SDGs and reach those furthest behind.”

This issue of the IDS Bulletin was funded by the Government of Ireland as part of the Strategic Partnership between Irish Aid and IDS, focusing on Social Protection, Food Security, and Nutrition. The collaboration brings together research and capacity development with policy, programmatic, and influencing know-how to support action that more effectively reduces poverty and injustice.

The IDS Bulletin issue in full and the individual articles are now available to download.



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