Commons-based responses to COVID-19

Commons-based responses to COVID-19

The most recent edition of Development, the flagship journal of the Society for International Development, explores whether the COVID-19 crisis provides a much-needed opportunity for introducing health strategies that are explicitly linked to the building of a more just and sustainable world.

Seven CERN members have contributed to this conversation through their article which focuses on the connection between food and human health and wellbeing, and discusses examples of how COVID-19 has prompted ingenious responses that frame food and human health and wellbeing as part of a life-giving planetary commons.

The authors acknowledge how COVID-19 is exacerbating existing inequities and injustices in the current food and agricultural system, but in the spirit of the special edition they have focused on examples of innovative responses to the crisis that could be harnessed to sustain collective health and wellbeing.

In Australia and New Zealand, one innovative response to the increased levels of food insecurity associated with COVID-19 lockdowns has been to connect food with those who need it, using various mechanisms to redistribute food that would otherwise have gone to waste.

According to the Manaaki Whenua Landcare Researcher Gradon Diprose, “these mechanisms are based on networks of social enterprises, state support and algorithmic coordination and the resulting benefits of this improvisational commons-redistribution are multiform—from physical and emotional health to addressing needless carbon emissions produced by food waste.”

In the context of Finland, the pandemic has prompted increased interest in small-scale agriculture in rural and urban areas, as well as a focus on ensuring self-sufficiency in the long-term, and these approaches feature in a Committee for the Future report that urged the Finnish Parliament to support local solutions, citizen inclusion and participation post-COVID.

Teppo Eskelinen, one of the authors from Finland, says “these types of priorities which emphasise localization and citizen engagement in food production reinforce the idea of food as a common responsibility and entitlement and would help shift away from the current focus on food as a commodity.”

During the COVID-19 slowdown in India, access to food has become a heightened concern for many and the state-controlled agricultural sector has been further opened to free market forces through passing of new farm bills.

Nevertheless, as Indian scholar Bhavya Chitranshi explains, “there have been many localised efforts to find other avenues to ensure food sufficiency.”

“For example, in the Rayagada district of rural Odisha, Kondh adivasi (an indigenous community) have been relying more upon traditional systems of food foraging, management, exchange and preservation, and groups such as Eka Nari Sanghathan, a community led organization of indigenous single women farmers in Rayagada, have been connecting these more sustainable forms of agriculture to issues of gender, singleness, women’s health and collective well-being.”

The insights from these CERN scholars shows how a diversity of economic activities can form part of a community’s response to COVID-19 and help to foster a commons-based approach for responding to crises.

The authors of the article, Stephen Healy, Bhavya Chitranshi, Gradon Diprose, Teppo Eskelinen, Anisah Madden, Inka Santala and Miriam Williams, are from institutions in Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand and Finland. The article had its genesis in discussions at the regular monthly CERN-Sydney meetings, and was then written by a wider group of CERN members drawn from elsewhere in the world.


Photo by Ben Ashby on Unsplash

Jenny Cameron