Apr 21, 2020

Creating the Best ‘New Normal:’ Preserving our Resources by Investing in Sustainability

By Meredith Brooks, CTSA Information Specialist

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact lives and economies across the globe, normal life as we know it has—at least for the moment—shifted to a period of uncertainty for many people and industries. The World Trade Organization projects that trade may fall up to 32% in 2020 as supply chains and other economic activities are disrupted due to the virus. Few industries are immune to the impacts of the pandemic. Indeed, agriculture and aquaculture have been affected. 90% of U.S. aquaculture farmers who responded to the recent NAA COVID-19 survey indicated that their business has been impacted, with 80% indicating that private (non-government) contracts or orders have been canceled due to the pandemic.

It is not an overstatement to say that we rely on agriculture to live. From small-scale regenerative farming to large-scale production, farmers provide society with one of its most essential services. Without farmers, there would be no food. Now, during a global pandemic, the general public is realizing just how essential food security is. From those who are helping neighbors and donating to food banks, to others who are nervously hoarding food at the grocery store despite assurances that there is plenty of food in the U.S., we are seeing how society responds to impacts to personal food security during a global disaster. In many areas, food insecurity and poverty are growing, and there are serious concerns that the economic fallout from this pandemic will push a half billion people into poverty.

Outbreaks are limiting the capabilities of some large terrestrial protein plants, and agriculture labor shortages are a growing concern. The aquaculture and fisheries industries are also feeling the impacts from a major slowdown of global exports of shrimp and other seafood. Development projects across the world have been put on hold. It will be some time before the true toll is understood. While we are limited in the actions we can take at the moment, this pandemic is creating an opportunity for us to consider the best way to build and rebuild moving forward to ensure our food and economic security.

Many media outlets have shared articles detailing the broader impacts of the pandemic, including a Washington Post article that contends this is an experiment in a new way of living. Some of the shifts we have made will certainly be short term, but others are projected to remain in place. Consumer behaviors and supply chains are under a microscope, and it is evident that there is some need for adjustment on a global scale. In light of Earth day, it is warranted to consider some of the shifts we should consider adopting and expanding on as we strive towards a brighter future.

One of the greatest shifts on display is the way in which humans interact with the natural world. From climate change to wildlife, we are seeing undeniable demonstrations of human impacts (and lack thereof) on the environment. With more people working from home than anytime in recent history, there are fewer cars on the road and planes in the sky. There is some remarkable evidence that natural systems are rebounding with the decrease in human outdoor activities. Satellites have detected less pollution in the air, people can see fish and wildlife in the canals of Venice for the first time in decades, and turtles are successfully nesting on crowd-free beaches in Central America. Recent surveys found that fish and native algae populations in Hanauma Bay—an often-crowded Oahu landmark that is famous for its beautiful reef—and other reefs across the Hawaiian Islands are increasing. The long-term impacts of these short-term changes have yet to be understood; either way, nature is indeed demonstrating the impacts that we as a species have on all other living things. While it may not be realistic to make the type of sweeping changes necessary to have these immediate results become permanent, some modicum of changes to our collective behaviors to increase sustainability can lead to significant changes down the road.

With Climate Change and a food crisis looming as a serious potential global disaster, focusing on sustainability can help to improve human and environmental health as well as the health and stability of both the economy and food supply. Current concerns over the status of the global economy are valid. The pandemic has unearthed cracks in fragile systems of order across the world. Some are calling this a perfect time to reconsider our investments on a global scale. One emerging system that prominently features aquaculture is the Blue Economy, which encompasses the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs, and ocean ecosystem health. The Blue Economy is comprised of many sectors, including aquaculture, transportation, tourism and recreation, and coastal resilience. These are all industries that could flourish in the Pacific Region under the right circumstances.

Aquaculture is a cornerstone of the emerging Blue Economy. Sustainable technologies in aquaculture, from mariculture to IMTA farming of bivalves and algae, can support the food system and create jobs, markets, and opportunities for people around the world. Utilizing coastal resources to produce more food, reduce dependence on imported goods, and help restore ecosystems is a boon for humans and the environment. As we collectively pause and re-evaluate the structure of our economy, it is time to consider shifting our focus to sustainably mitigating the impacts of our changing climate and addressing other global issues.

During these trying times, many people are reconnecting or connecting with nature for the first time as they search for opportunities to ‘escape.’ This connection to nature will help lay the foundation that is necessary to enact a sea change to a more sustainable and secure food system and planet. Hopefully, as we emerge from this season, we can all consider strengthening our long-term food security by investing in sustainable food production, as well as commercial and consumer buy-in to reduce waste and make mindful choices. In the EU, leaders are blazing the trail by calling for post-pandemic recovery plans to include the continent’s “green transition,” and the European Commission is moving forward with its pressing ahead with its Renewed Sustainable Finance Strategy. It has been said that if we work together in this dark moment, it could be our finest hour. Partnership during times like these can instill in us a greater appreciation for the ability of the government to work with private and public sectors to tackle the world’s most serious problems together.

Additional Resources:
Click here to learn more about how the USDA is supporting farmers during the pandemic.