Governor Newsom recently announced the formation of an Economic Recovery Task Force charged with reviving the state’s economy, following the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. The task force, co-chaired by businessmen and climate-activist Tom Steyer and Newsom’s Chief of Staff Ann O’Leary, will develop solutions for government and businesses to help California recover from the immediate pandemic-induced recession as well as to guide long-term economic development across the state, with a focus on those hardest hit by COVID-19.
A collective call to invest in food and agriculture resilience
CalCAN recently joined partners working in food and agriculture from across California to share stories of farmers, farmworkers and institutions along the food supply chain struggling to respond to the crisis. Recognizing an opportunity to address the struggles shared by many in the food system, the group coalesced around recommendations for economic recovery that weave together economic recovery with climate resilience. Recently submitted as official recommendations to the Economic Recovery Task Force, the recommendations are detailed below:
Recommendation #1: Fund additional regional and local processing, distribution, market, and financial infrastructure
In conversations with food system workers, the group found that diversified farms and ranches are among the most resilient to market fluctuations resulting from the pandemic. This recommendation asks for increased state investment in market diversity for small, mid-sized and historically underserved farmers and ranchers, and infrastructure funding for local market development to spur local agriculture economies, raise local incomes and prompt local job growth.
Specific recommendations include: creating a California Resilient Food Systems Infrastructure Fund that would extend the federal stimulus farm bill programs by providing additional state dollars to specific USDA programs, expanding access to credit and land acquisition/tenure consultations to small agricultural businesses to expedite disaster recovery, and providing regulatory relief for small scale on-farm slaughter operations and direct sales of livestock.
Recommendation #2: Protect our essential food system workers and our most vulnerable communities
After declaring food and agriculture workers essential, food chain workers, including those on farms, were faced with unprepared and unsafe working conditions that forced them to choose between work and personal safety. What’s more, these workers are already among the most vulnerable in the state due to immigration status and inadequate access to basic needs and social benefits.
In order to keep these workers safe and our food supply steady, this recommendation calls for investment in the protection of essential workers by improving worker safety and farmworker housing conditions and preventing the spread of misinformation via social-media that put people at risk of immigration authorities/ICE.
Recommendation #3: Incentivize diverse cropping and livestock systems to help growers withstand future volatilities
Strengthening the earlier call to invest in market diversity, the final recommendation urges increased investment in diverse farming systems through Climate-Smart Agriculture Programs that promote on-farm resilience to market, crop, and climate volatilities. Specific recommendations include increased funding allocations for the existing Climate-Smart Agriculture Programs like Healthy Soils with guaranteed technical and financial assistance for small-mid sized farmers, and farmers of color and women farmers. If the traditional funding mechanisms for these programs are redirected because of budget cuts, this recommendation calls for providing state soil health block grants to maintain these programs. Lastly, expanding the state’s pesticide and fertilizer regulatory program is necessary to support farmers as they transition away from hazardous pesticides and fertilizers to certified organic and regenerative agricultural systems in the long-term.
Economic recovery needs long-term solutions
Although discussions around the state’s economic recovery plans are ongoing, the recommendations above make clear that economic recovery needs to include long-term solutions. Investments in climate resilience will not only contribute to the state’s ambitious climate goals but also ensure resilient systems that can weather future market and climate-related crises.