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Here and ready: the value of peasant agriculture in the context of COVID-19

26 March 2020

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, ECVC wants to underline that peasants, small and medium-scale farmers, and agricultural workers are here and ready to feed the world.

ECVC also wants to express its solidarity with all the farmers and other sectors of society (including all essential workers and all medical personnel) who continue to do their work on the front lines.


The current globalised system has caused great dependence and fragility. After years of austerity measures and cuts, we see more than ever the need for stronger public services, especially within health care and other vital areas, so that they can deal with the serious difficulties that are occurring. Similarly, we also see that it is essential to have a secure, safe and sufficient supply of healthy and local food for the entire population.


This secure food supply chain is guaranteed within the EU and throughout Europe by millions of small and medium-sized farmers, whose produce feeds citizens in many towns and cities, thus nourishing the European Union. In 2016, 95.2% of farms in the EU were classified as family farms[1]. In other European countries, the percentage is even higher[2]. In other words, Europe is full of small-scale food producers who offer a ready-made solution to the problems that worry the whole world: having healthy, local food that does not depend on the long supply chains that risk being hit so drastically by this pandemic.


However, in agricultural or economic policies, agriculture that should focus on feeding our populations in Europe is actually subjected to the interests of globalisation and international markets. As a result, food supply and food sovereignty are called into question and put at risk. These policies destroy thousands and thousands of small farms, which then jeopardizes food security for the entire population.


The neoliberal globalization of agricultural markets leads to a loss of public control over food systems and a heavy dependence on imports and a very small number of multinational companies, that control much of the distribution.


The capacity of the large food distribution sector and other multinationals to guarantee and supply sufficient quantities of fresh food to the population depends on many fragile factors which, as we have seen with the COVID-19 outbreak, are largely out of their control, precisely because of the number of links in the food supply chain between production and consumption. Here, the importance of action by public authorities is evident.


Therefore, in this scenario where policy makers, multinational companies and large food retailers are panicking about how they will continue to transport food without worsening the spread of the virus, political decision makers at all levels cannot afford to forget the role of small and medium farmers. Almost 10 million small-scale farmers[3] in the EU and even more in other European countries[4] grow, produce and work every day in order to feed the local population.


Of course, for them to do so, national, regional and local institutions and authorities have a key role to play in ensuring that citizens have access to these products. Public policies must be concrete and focus on supporting and protecting small producers and strengthening the local economy.


The current crisis, with all its contradictions, may mean the end for many small producers in Europe who have been denied access to the markets through which their production has so far flowed. If no action is taken, the closure of public and private canteens, the closure of most restaurants, the limitations on direct sales, the closure of most public markets and the concentration of food trade in large supermarkets may lead to the loss of much of our productive capacity.


Likewise, salaried workers in the European agricultural sector, the majority of whom are migrants, and subject to unstable and precarious conditions regarding work, social status and documentation, are suffering. In many cases, they face dangerous health and safety conditions in the workplace and in transport to work, a reduction of their labour rights, and a lack of sufficient resources and support when they are let go or not called to work. This situation is aggravated in cases of international displacement and in many unsafe settlements across Europe, where thousands of seasonal agricultural workers are forced to reside.


ECVC therefore calls on all decision makers, at all levels throughout Europe, to take all possible measures to protect the market access of small and medium-scale farmers and peasants in these difficult times and to provide them with all the necessary means to continue their work. Specifically:


  • We demand that short (local) supply chains and direct sales outlets, such as local markets and farm shops, are kept open throughout Europe and that appropriate measures are provided to keep them safe.


  • We call on the European, national and local authorities to take proactive measures that are adapted to the situation, so that small farmers and peasants can sell their produce through various channels. This includes direct and short circuits, as well as large-scale distribution, reducing the risk of having a lot of unsold produce in the countryside, due to a lack of infrastructure or other bureaucratic measures.


  • Economic support for the peasant farmers affected by the crisis, where possible with financial measures, including advanced payments of CAP subsidies and the reduction of VAT and other taxes.


  • Promote direct markets and solidarity buying groups (CSAs, consumer cooperatives, etc.), which can help minimize the risk of contamination, firstly by reducing the transport of food and people, and secondly by preventing large numbers of people from congregating in closed spaces such as a supermarket


  • To guarantee the safety of small and medium-sized food producers and food workers from the risks related to COVID-19, so that they can carry out their work in the fields and in local markets. Governments have to find ways to provide workers with all the necessary tools (such as masks, hygiene products etc.) to work in safe setting


  • Ensure that all waged agricultural workers maintain their jobs, their full labour rights, and sufficient income in all circumstances and without discrimination. Institutions must ensure adequate health conditions in workers’ settlements and housing, as well as sufficient food and resources when they are unable to leave or have no employment or social benefits. Migrants and refugees should have access to obtaining and renewing their residence permits without any obstacles.


ECVC also calls on European and national decision makers to use their determination to stop the COVID-19 pandemic to change their agricultural and food policy for the better, in line with the economic, social and environmental crises the sector is suffering from. They must develop measures to guarantee local, healthy and sustainable production in the hands of small and medium sized farmers at a fair price, and not on the basis of artificial international prices that do not take into account production costs and the social and environmental factors in each region. The EU must stop using agriculture and the right to food as just another element of business for Trade and Investment Treaties.


Instead, the EU needs to start preparing sound instruments to stabilise markets for some sectors where imbalances may be generated, either by restrictions on exports to third countries or by a reduction in consumption. So far, it is unclear how long the strong measures put in place to tackle COVID-19 will last. It is essential to act now to promote and protect small producers and peasants, and to facilitate food sovereignty at this vitally important time.


Read the latest COVID-19 updates from ECVC members here: https://www.eurovia.org/covid-19-latest-information-and-updates/





[2] http://www.fao.org/3/aq676e/aq676e.pdf




[4] http://www.fao.org/europe/resources/assessment-of-agriculture-and-rural-development-sectors-in-the-eastern-partnership-countries/en/

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