Transcript: World After Covid with
Hilal Elver and Helena Cobban

Webinar recorded on July 15, 2020 


Video and Session Transcript

Helena Cobban (00:00):

Hi everybody, I'm delighted to welcome you to this webinar, which is part of a broader project that we have at Just World Educational called “The World After Covid,” in which we look examining various different aspects of the rapid way that the world is changing since the outbreak of Covid earlier this year. Obviously food insecurity, hunger, starvation, they are a key part of what is happening after Covid, and to a certain extent before Covid, but Covid makes it all a lot worse in many parts of the world, including here in the United States, but obviously even worse in other parts of the world.

Oxfam America is now warning that by the end of the year roughly 12,000 people may be dying each day worldwide from Covid-related starvation, which they say could be worse than the disease itself. So it's a wonderful time for us to be able to welcome onto the webinar series, Professor Hilal Elver.

She served from 2014 until April of this year as the UN special rapporteur on the right to food. She's a professor of international law, a global distinguished fellow at the UCLA law school's Resnick Food Law and Policy Center. Previously, she held the distinguished chair at the Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies in Malta. She served the Turkish government in various capacities, including as a member of the country's team at the climate change negotiations. So hello, and welcome to the webinar.

Hilal Elver (01:57):

Thank you very much for bringing me.

Helena Cobban (01:58):

So I'm going to have a wonderful conversation with Hilal later on, but just before we start, I want to remind everybody who has joined the webinar that first of all, Hilal and I will have our 30 minute conversation. And after that we'll have a Q and A session.

If you want to submit questions, obviously have them be relevant to this topic, have them be short and to the point, and submit them through the chat box. That's the best way. You could do it through the Q and A button, but we find generally the chat box is better, and then they will be reviewed by my colleague, Charlotte Kates, whom you can't see on your screen right now, but Charlotte is working behind the scenes. She's actually posting in the chat box some useful links for you. She can answer your technical questions if you have any and, most important of all, she will be reviewing all the questions that people have for Hilal Elver. And then after, when we do the Q and A, Charlotte will actually be hosting that and fielding the questions.

Just before we get into the conversation, I want to remind you that the video of today's session will, like those of the preceding webinars, be published at our resource center, which you can see at the link: I invite you to visit and explore the resource center where you'll find many intriguing conversations and resources to do with “The World After Covid.”

So now here's the important part of the program, of course, the central part of the program. Hilal Elver, you were the UN special rapporteur on the right to food. Tell us what that job entails.

Hilal Elver (04:04):

Okay. First of all, it's a good opportunity for me to explain a bit, what the special rapporteurs are in this system and what they do.

The Human Rights Council appoints independent experts for six years from the world, based on their expertise in almost every human rights - excuse me.. Special rapporteurship can be thematic and it can be a kind of country focus. For instance, the UN special rapporteur on Palestine, occupied territories, that discuss and dealing with the human rights issues in only Palestine. But the thematic special rapporteurs have their own thematic area. For instance, food, housing, health, and water, environment, toxics, or violence against women, freedom of religion. These experts are going around the world, investigating specific countries and bringing the reports to the United Nations Human Rights Council and in New York. And also, they also prepare every year two thematic reports in their specific area.

So it's very hefty work. It's a lot of traveling, a lot of writing, a kind of official reports. It's an important position in terms of power access, to decision making mechanisms, higher legal, all of the governmental bodies and also an honorary position. We are not part of the civil servants of the United Nations. We do this without a salary because human rights experts should be totally independent. We are not connected with the UN, or we are not connected with any other countries. So this is a short explanation of what the special rapporteurs are and what they are doing.

Helena Cobban (06:36):

Well, thank you. That's great. I'd also like to unpack the right to food part of this because the right to food, in a sense, it's symbolic of the right to a decent economy in general. And the current crisis of the food system is a symbol of the current economic crisis around the world. And it's part of the basket of economic and social rights that most countries in the world have actually signed on to. But our country, here in the United States, has not. So does that make your work more difficult?

Hilal Elver (07:13):

Well, it's interesting because a right to food is almost well-known for everyone, but the concept, what includes the right to food is not well-known. And every government, every country in the world, including the United States, they understand the fundamental value of the right to food, but it the same time, very often violate the right. So it's a kind of confusing concept. The concept is - yes, the United States is not a signatory of the Economic and Social Rights covenant, but the U.S. is not the only one.

Many of the Western countries, actually all the Commonwealth countries and Europe, they are not really supporting economic and social rights directly, like the United States. So developing countries are much more active in this area, unlike the U.S. and the Western countries that are more active in civil and political rights. It's sort of a world divided in two, like the cold war legacy that is still continuing.

So the right to food, as you said, doesn't mean that governments - government is responsible to its citizens, but it doesn't mean that they will give them food in a normal world. But they have to have a decent structure that the people can either produce themselves for their family or market, or have a decent job that they can have accessibility of the food in the market. So it is not a charity.

For instance, we talk about food banks right now. As you know, during the Covid period, food banks became so important, but food banks have nothing to do with the right to food because in an emergency situation, of course, government steps in or NGOs step in to help people. But the human rights-based right to food, the human rights concept gives to citizens and people the right to ask questions, the right to access to decision making mechanisms and monitoring, and access to justice.

These, sometimes scary, kinds of procedural rights that many countries are reluctant to be responsible for, as against their own people. And with all economic and social rights, there’s one problem, they are not as strong as civil and political rights, because countries can have a kind of escaping concept. If they have enough economic power, they will get away with not being able to provide a right to food properly. So many of the countries, they call “progressive realization” of the economic and social rights, which means, yes, they are responsible. We are going to do it, but it has to be progressive. When we develop, we will do better. That's a kind of escaping part of the right to food concept.

Helena Cobban (10:46):

So now we, we are in this new era where Covid is devastating economies around the world. How has it highlighted the fragility of food systems around the world? Do you have any little vignettes or you can give us figures?

Hilal Elver (11:05):

Yes, of course. First of all, Covid was very, very unpredictable. It was unpredictable. And when it started first, no government understood where it will go and when the World Health Organization announced in March a pandemic, it was kind of shocking for many countries, including United States, including Italy, for instance. Very interestingly enough, Covid hit first the Western - except China - from Wuhan, came to Europe, but it unusually affected Europe and the United States and developed countries, unlike others, for instance, SARS or Ebola. All of them were kind of developing countries’ problem. And Europe and United States didn't really pay too much attention.

They didn't really care too much. Because I know Ebola significantly affected African food systems, but they didn't even hear it because it didn't come here. But Covid directly affected European countries. And these European countries have a very sophisticated food security system.

They are basically food secure and their value chain, global value chain, is very sophisticated. And basically they are producers, but Covid affected first food workers because the lockdown started and the food workers were not able to work anymore. And suddenly in Italy and Germany, all the very good production, for instance, of white asparagus, or strawberries, all kinds of very important high level food pieces were not able to reach the market.

So this, of course, this doesn't mean that Europeans became hungry. No, because we have incredible amount of food surplus in the world. As of today we have a food surplus, there is no problem about the availability of the food, but the problem is accessibility.

People lost their jobs. People lost their access. People lost their all - the end of this sophisticated global food chain was interrupted suddenly, because transportation was not important and major countries that produce, for instance, Russia, China, U.S. didn't do it too much, but Vietnam for instance, stopped exporting rice. So that became a kind of problem. The FAO was very strongly suggesting, please don't do it, because you have enough in warehouses. You don't have to put your self-sufficiency in the frontline and they sort of put a FAO-announced solidarity.

Helena Cobban (14:33):

So FAO is the Food and Agriculture Organization.

Hilal Elver (14:35):

Yes, food and agriculture. It's under the United Nations. Food and Agriculture Organization, basically the policymakers of all these food and agricultural areas, with basic responsibility, which in 1948 was established for eliminating hunger and rural poverty and supporting the agriculture system. It's a very sophisticated knowledge base, a very well maintained United Nations body, but also they are very much free market oriented.

They didn't like that this food value chain and global economic order that food is traveling around the world that would be interrupted. They said, please don't go to self-sufficiency. Self-sufficiency is not good. Why not? You know, open the borders for food because the global economic order is capable to feed the world. So that is also very interesting and ideologically very much free market - the capitalist order that, now, the food system is a very major part of it.

Helena Cobban (16:00):

But I think now there's a lot more focus on food security, especially for food insecure, small nations. And that will be a continuing concern.

Hilal Elver (16:13):

So that's interesting enough because Covid-19 actually did not do too much damage in the long term yet, because we don't know how long it's going to go. We don't know if the next harvest will be affected, because food security issues were already there under serious threat. They spiked after the last three decades where food insecurity was decreasing. Since 2014, hunger and malnutrition is increasing, which was very strange.

That's why FAO was trying to understand why we can't eliminate hunger and malnutrition, and also they are increasing. And there are several reasons for this. Of course, the basic number one problem is basically conflict areas. As you know, the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa are very much under the stress of, Yemen, Sudan, Syria, Republic of Congo, Nigeria, all the Chad region, they are under serious conflict, which means basically, hunger is a very strong problem.

The second is of course climate change, you know, extreme weather events. Now there's a flood, there's a water shortage. There are serious kinds of issues. And then economic volatility, especially developing countries. The economy is going up and down and people’s affordability, accessibility to food is becoming not sustainable. So food security -when we say food security, when you are thinking, “I am food secure,” you have to be secure all the time. Not when you have a job and you lose the job, you lose your food security. So that's why it's very problematic right now.

It used to be problematic since 2014, but the Covid-19 became kind of like steroids on this problem of food insecurity in certain areas. This is maybe not much in Europe and the United States, because 95% of Europe and the United States’ citizens are okay or moderately food insecure, but also food security has levels, you know: high level starvation, famine, emergency.

There are different kinds of levels. If you look at these levels, the figures are going huge, high. For instance, two days ago, FAO published their SOFI reports. SOFI means the “State of Food Insecurity” report for 2020. You can see on the internet, everybody talks about it, because this is a very strong issue.

Food insecurity is increasing everywhere, but sub-Saharan Africa is in terrible shape. Latin America is fast-growing in food insecurity.

Helena Cobban (19:42)

So I'm actually just going to share a map that I have. It's not from that FAO report that you mentioned, but it's by actually, the chief economist of the FAO had produced this.

Hilal Elver (20:02):

Maximo Torero.

Helena Cobban (20:04):

Yeah, exactly. So you know, as you said, sub-Saharan Africa, and actually a lot of the central American countries, are they the red hotspots there? So yes, precisely what you've been talking about.

I'd like to just touch for a moment on food security issues here in the United States and more broadly, the fact that I think Raj Patel is somebody who's written about the fact that you have, you know, obesity at some levels and starvation at others.

And the obesity and related things like diabetes are, in a sense, symbols of a food system gone completely haywire, with corn syrup and all the dreadful things that American agricultural corporations put into the food system here. And it turns out that they are comorbidities for Covid and that people who have obesity or diabetes are much more vulnerable to Covid. So you have these two things at the same time, you know, food insecurity and then obesity, how does that work?

Hilal Elver (21:27):

It's interesting because hunger and malnutrition - when we talk about this, hunger and malnutrition - many of the governments are more comfortable to talk about hunger, but they are not very comfortable to talk about the malnutrition because malnutrition is huge.

If they put together malnutrition and undernutrition, because when we say malnutrition, there are undernutrition, micronutrient inefficiency and obesity, or overnutrition. You wouldn't put overnutrition. They say overnutrition is not a good word, according to dieticians. So for the first time in the world right now, undernutrition is lower than the obesity and micronutrient inefficiency.

So malnutrition is universal. Not only in developing countries - then the United States and all developed countries come into the malnutrition problem. They have significant problems. For instance, the U.S. has 60% of people in the United States, you should think about it, overweight and obese.

This is the recipe of the noncommunicable diseases, as you said. What is noncommunicable diseases? Noncommunicable diseases mostly come from diet, but also comes from substance use or genetic deformation. But if we talk about diet, we can significantly reduce the increase of noncommunicable diseases.

Cancer is one of them and heart disease and high blood pressure and diabetes. These are the major reasons that people die, and the impact of malnutrition and the noncommunicable diseases is trillions of dollars. So if we make the diet system more reasonable, we are going to be able to solve the health issues. Covid really showed that, you know, 90% of the Covid deaths were either obese or diabetic, these diseases come together.

And more interesting, that all these people are in lower economic conditions. So these diseases and a bad diet are connected with how much money you have. So inequality, economic justice, social justice comes in together.

Helena Cobban (24:40):

So in your final report that you submitted as United Nations special rapporteur, which I read with great interest, you advocate the concept of food citizenship. Tell us more about that. It's a fantastic concept.

Hilal Elver (24:59):

There are lots of concepts that we keep talking about. Always to find a new way, it is good. For instance, food sovereignty. It was much more known as a subject matter in the food policy area, sort of opposite of food security. Food security is bringing - I put all of that because citizenship comes after. Food security is being brought by United States against the right to food, because they said, a human rights approach, we do not accept. Food security is important.

When you talk about food security, production, production, and production, you will produce a lot. Food sovereignty comes from Latin American rural communities. They try to say, we would like to produce what we want and how we want. And we have to be independent, and making decisions. And that will not be a kind of global corporate interest to tell us what to do. The food sovereignty concept is more democratically making decisions.

Food citizenship, however, is a much more new concept. Actually, there is one English NGO about food justice, they used it first. And I also was influenced from them to get this concept because food is not anymore only in terms of the government, in terms of the corporations, in terms of the farmers.

In terms of food for everyone, citizenship means we are responsible: What we eat, what we choose, how we question. So this is our responsibility as a citizen. So citizenship means we are not only a subject, but also have agency. We have to make it participatory. For instance, there are many places in city councils right now, in the United States and Canada and Europe, the cities are trying to make their own food policies and citizens are directly responsible and participating into that. Sort of like a citizenship from below rather than about making decisions by the supermarket chain. So that's a kind of concept I'm trying to promote.

Helena Cobban (27:45):

Oh, that's great. So it would be supporting local producers and green markets. And I'd like to talk to you about the effects that agricultural subsidies here in the United States and in Europe, primarily in, in the U.S. and Europe, the effects that agricultural subsidies to our farmers have on food systems in very low income countries. Because that's something that's been a concern of mine for many years.

Hilal Elver (28:18):

Yes. Actually the one basic problem is this, you know, food subsidies are taking over the market in a global order because our American farmers and European farmers are sort of in a social security system. They have no problem of accessing the market because they are getting subsidies. It's very political also. In the Midwest, for instance, all the big time farmers are connected with the subsidies and subsidies are not for everything, which makes us basically sick.

For instance, what does the U.S. give the subsidies? Corn, which is problematic, wheat, soy. So this trio. So which one is better for our nutrition system? None of them. When they - sometimes I heard anecdotally -  the farmers, they plant a little bit of tomato or vegetables. They said, no, no, no. They cut their subsidies when they see the vegetables because vegetables are specialty foods.

And specialty foods are not subject to subsidies. This is completely unacceptable. Forget about the developing countries’ market destroyed. They are destroying our own health system. So that's why subsidies should be definitely reconsidered. When we talk about the subsidies, farmers get so nervous.

I was at a meeting in Washington with the Congresspeople and a lot of farmers. When I talk about the subsidies, they said, don't touch our subsidies. So I understood, it's a very delicate matter. They don't want to be touched because it's a very serious issue. Otherwise they can't. But now, the market is completely disappeared. Nobody buys corn anymore, because basically corn goes to either animals feeding or to methanol.

The gas prices is so low - oil prices -  nobody's buying anymore. So that kind of policies should change, depending on the conditions. Now, the market is completely up and down because of Covid, because of the oil prices. So subsidies are not anymore - or you just give to subsidy to people that don't survive because they can't sell anything. So Europe is another problem. In Europe, the biggest subsidy receiver is guess who? Queen Elizabeth.

Helena Cobban (31:29):

A very poor hardworking farm woman.

Hilal Elver (31:32):

Because it's based on the land acreage, they get the subsidies. And many kinds of livestock farmers in Netherlands. They were poor farmers. Now they are the billionaires.

Helena Cobban (31:48):

I mean, I think the same thing has happened here. You know, I haven't looked at the figures for quite a while, but there's an organization called the Environmental Working Group that breaks out what proportion of the money that the agricultural subsidies goes to the very big producers and what proportion goes to the small producers. And of course, you know, when, when it's sold to politicians in this country, it's sold as, you know, we've got to support the small farmer. It's not supporting the small farmer.

Hilal Elver (32:21):

The small farmer subsidy is a different one. Very limited.

Helena Cobban (32:27):

And meantime, those subsidies do help wipe out whole agricultural sectors in low income countries, like cotton in Africa.

Hilal Elver (32:40):

Another thing about the subsidy before going out there, because it's very important. The United States is the biggest food humanitarian in the world. Guess what, why they are doing - because they get all these farmers’ wheat and all kinds of production dumped into Africa. When they are dumping down, also they use American ships, transportation and a huge amount of money is going to these American transportation and American farmers in order to get the food aid to Africa.

During the Obama administration, he tried to change this. He changed it significantly, but I don't know right now what happened. So this is a very -  trillions of, not billions, trillions of money goes through this food aid, U.S. food aid.

Helena Cobban (33:41):

I mean, that is definitely one way in which U.S. policy affects people and farmers and consumers in low income countries. The other of course is sanctions. And we have to talk about sanctions in this context. If there is a right to food, how can sanctions be maintained on countries like Iran or Syria or Venezuela or Cuba?

Hilal Elver (34:08):

Sanctions is one of the issues that I took seriously and I made very strong, several press releases on that. Because especially in the Covid time, going to economic sanctions is a crime against humanity. Because these countries are already in terrible situations.

And the argument is sanctions are to make them peaceful manner or disarmament this and that, but actually, these sanctions only hurt ordinary people, never elites. Never elite of Iran, never elite of Venezuela, and never. But the poor people are directly impacted by economic sanctions. When I was in Zimbabwe - I was in the mission trip in Zimbabwe. I was shocked because the whole Zimbabwe was suffering - because the Mugabe period was 20 years under the sanctions of the United States. It is a very serious issue.

And the American ambassador was very upset with me putting this in my report. They said, oh, they are very limited sanctions on only some people, but it is not true, because when you have sanctions, no international organizations come and helps the countries, like Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, Zimbabwe, many, many more. So the sanctions issue is absolutely a political disaster. Let's put it this way.

Helena Cobban (35:51):

I mean, we should have learned that in the 1990s with what happened in Iraq, fully documented. As Madeline Albright said at the time: children, 500,000 Iraqi children died because of sanctions, that was a price worth paying.

Hilal Elver (36:13):

She lost all political future with the sentence.

Helena Cobban (36:22):

That’s true. So I know that you and various other organizations have produced sort of lists of, you know, the 10 things that have to be done to save the world from, from the food crisis caused by Covid. Could you maybe, since most of the people watching this live are here in the United States, what would be the two or three things that  should do that would be effective in the long term or short term?

Hilal Elver (36:57):

Yes, the most important change in the U.S. and everywhere. Social security, social protection is extremely important right now, because there is an immediate problem of the access to food. Food is not available because of the physical barriers and food is very expensive because of the physical barriers in the market. And people don't have enough money to access to food. Then what they do, they do eat very terrible food, you know, only staple food, not too nutritious, but that makes also them sick and then when they get to Covid, they will be in a terrible situation.

So direct social security is very important. For instance, the payment for unemployment and the SNAP program, you know, the food aid program for United States citizens, should be extended rather than reduced, especially children. And actually it should be, all children from zero to 18 should get universal health coverage. That's extremely important. There should not be any children until age 18 that should be without this, they will be able to access the hospital. They will be able to access health services and food services without any kind of problem.

The United States, the most, richest country in the world. And they can do it. For instance, they put the stimulus package, right? How much money went to these people rather than going to companies, airlines, or the cruises and the hotels? This is a very serious issue for everybody. This is a short term - short term, definitely social security and social protection must be important.

The second, they should make an important investment for cities because cities are disconnected with the rural parts and cities should survive themselves in this kind of situation, with city farming, and kind of these citizenship activities, making a kind of local food production, definitely subsidized or promoted rather than big time staple foods.

These are very important and it may be politically difficult, but definitely should be done as soon as possible.

Helena Cobban (39:55):

That's a great list, by the way. I should tell people that Hilal is with us from Turkey, and I think it's getting dark. In case people who are worried about you. I should have said you were in Turkey much sooner. So I wanted to just finish up with one little question, Hilal.

It's should we all be moving toward vegetarianism?

Hilal Elver (40:24):

Well, it could be a great idea, but there are some problems on that. One problem is, developing countries are very uneasy about this concept. When I give a talk for instance, in Pakistan, and I talk about this, how livestock or animal food is very problematic in terms of environmental sustainability, and also our health.

They said, you know what? We just started to eat a little bit of meat. Don't touch our meat. That is one thing. So, vegetarianism. Maybe it's good for developed countries, upper middle class families. Good, but it is not good for children, because nutrition is extremely important.

Yes. There's alternative nutrition. Definitely. We can do it alternative protein for instance, lentil or all kind of foods or fish, but fish is very expensive. The one thing that, when the poor people get access to fish in small fisheries, they survive with this protein.

When we talk about the excessive meat, this is U.S. number one, incredibly higher than many other countries, then Europe and China is coming, but it's a long way to come. So vegetarianism is good, but instead of vegetarianism, much more kind of balanced diet, maybe would be better. For instance, breastfeeding mothers should need protein. So that kind of thing might be adjusted rather than making one rule. Versus military - I remember the American military two years ago, maybe a year ago, they made a decision: meatless Monday. It took only 24 hours. They stopped because all the meat sector, meat lobby crushed this decision.

Helena Cobban (42:51):

The contractors, the big military contracts - my goodness. Well, thank you, we’ve talked about so many aspects of this story. I'm going to hand over very shortly to my colleague, Charlotte Kates, who's going to handle the Q and A section here, Charlotte. 

Hilal Elver (43:20):

Charlotte makes fantastic information in the chat. I suggest all of you really look at those. It's very, very good. Thank you.

Charlotte Kates (43:26):

Thank you so much. Thank you, Hilal.

And thank you Helena for collecting these wonderful links.

This information will also be available on the resource page, which Helena was speaking about earlier. You'll be able to access all of these things on an ongoing basis after this event is over to refer back to this information for further discussion and  learning and elaboration. With that being said, I want to encourage people, if you haven't already submitted your questions in the Q and A box and the chat.

If you have anything that you'd like to bring forward, we have some great questions, but please do keep coming, bringing them forward so that we can continue this great conversation. So we do have a question from Turki al-Faisal asking for you to elaborate further on the differences and what you see is necessary regarding the World Food Program.

Hilal Elver (44:25):

I do not understand – the World Food Program?

Charlotte Kates (44:28):

Yes. Like, how do you see in terms of the World Food Program and the right to food, how food rights are integrated into the international system? Do you want to elaborate further on sort of what kinds of changes you think would be necessary and important?

Hilal Elver (44:45):

So, the World Food Program is basically actually established by the United States and also a major provider of the financial part, comes from the U.S. The World Food Program is doing a very important job. No question about it, because it's basically humanitarian or emergency, right? But because last 10, 15 years, we have a lot of emergency situations and the conflict zones and disaster areas, the World Food Program is not always able to really deliver the necessary kind of materials. And also, the World Food Program recently, as I said, they changed the policies, rather than only food aid. They try to make it food policy and food assistance, which means when they go to the countries, especially sub-Saharan Africa or the developing countries, rather than just giving you food, they are trying to help the farmers, especially women.

They teach them how to make sustainable production works with program. If they manage it not politically, but objectively, it would be a very important program and should be continued, but it shouldn't have politics in it.

For instance, for a geopolitical reason, we are going to help this place, but we don't want to help that place. That's not good. But the recent director of the World Food Program, Mr. Beasley, he seems to be very enthusiastic and doing a good job, but they are a little bit more private sector oriented to my taste, but it is a small criticism, maybe.

Charlotte Kates (46:46)

Thank you so much. Another one of the major topics that's come up in speaking about Covid, the changing world and the inequities in the world that is confronting Covid, has been climate change. And of course climate change has a major impact on agriculture and on developing food sovereignty in countries around the world.

What is your view on how climate change will affect food sovereignty and food security -  currently, in response to Covid and also in the years to come?

Hilal Elver (47:22):

Of course, as you said, climate change and food and agriculture has a very complex relationship. Agriculture is affecting - it's a victim of climate change and also a perpetrator of climate change, because the way in which we produce food is very dangerous for climate change.

For instance, almost 35, 40% of the greenhouse gas emissions come from agricultural activity, either livestock or using pesticides or using oil based production, they are all major problems for climate change. So what Covid, did,  interestingly enough, in Covid-19, because the economy sort of stopped, freeze, and the greenhouse gas emission is slowly slowing down, but this is just a short period. I don’t think it’s going to be for long.

And also oil prices’ reduction also affected the climate change. In these days, it is a better condition than it used to be. Definitely the production system should change from industrial agriculture to a more agro-ecological system. which is in respect to ecosystems - because the food and the agricultural system is also very much affected by biodiversity, pollution and other things.

And biodiversity is directly connected with Covid. Actually Covid as you know, it's a zoonotic - basically animal species, from species to species, from animal to human it came, and it was at kind of a wet food market, but there's always something because we are invading animals’ land gradually.

So connections with wild animals and people are getting more and more close. That means we will have more virus exchanged between species. So that's also connected with of course, agricultural extension around the world. So, it's all connected. I hope the system will change. Definitely, we need to go to agro-ecology rather than industrial agriculture.

Charlotte Kates (50:10):

Thank you so much. We have one more question here from Upamanyu Sengupta, who is asking, What do you think about a country like India in regards to the food crisis? Is the problem a shortage of production, or is it a crisis of purchasing power? What can be a solution for these kinds of issues in the time of Covid?

Hilal Elver (50:35):

Well, India is a very, very important country and the problems and the solutions are very unique to the country, first of all. But the in Covid case, we saw very significant impact in the first place, because when they locked down in one day, actually all the food workers had to leave to go back to their villages.

They lost their jobs and they were not able to - even though some of them just walked - food workers in India are extremely poor, and they are basically food insecure people. So in India, there is a significant problem of accessibility and affordability. Maybe affordability is not a problem. You can afford food still in India, but, poverty is a serious issue.

So social security and social structure must be very important in order to protect farmers and the low income generated places. They have to have a job and job security.

And at the same time, India is a major, major producer. So it is very difficult to answer right now, the entire Indian system. But as of right now, I think the most important thing is dealing with the poverty and the food workers and basically, bigger industrial corporations taking every day, rural peoples’ land, which is the kind of problem also. And seed sovereignty is another issue. It's a whole bunch of issues that we have to talk in another webinar.

Charlotte Kates (52:42):

Thank you so much. And thank you for your wide range of discussions regarding these issues. When you speak about food workers, this is an issue -  poverty and marginalization of food workers. This is an issue that stretches as well to the developed countries. You know, here in the United States just the other day, a major lawsuit was filed regarding civil rights violations against food workers during Covid who are, of course by far, a majority of Black and Brown and people of color who were being subjected to a variety of rights violations during the crisis.

So, thank you for illuminating that part of the discussion. With that, I'd like to turn it back over to Just World Educational President, Helena Cobban, for some concluding words and final thoughts as we wrap up today's webinar.

Helena Cobban (53:31):

I'm sorry, we're kind of out of time just right now, but those were some great questions that came in. Just want to remind everybody that this is part of a continuing conversation amongst our guests on the webinar. This is the sixth one of these webinars, and we're going to have two more.

And as we go through, we're actually archiving the videos of the conversations and the transcripts and the links. And so we have this wonderful resource page on our website where you can find all these things.

Next week, we're going to have another great webinar with Marjorie Cohn, who is a veteran human rights specialist and campaigner. I'm always very nervous when it comes to doing screen-share, but here she is. So join us next Wednesday when Marjorie Cohn will be our guest.

And the Wednesday after that, we're going to have, back by popular demand, Richard Falk, who was our first guest. And we'll have a little panel with Richard Falk and Hans von Sponeck, who is a veteran UN humanitarian official. And the two of them will be discussing the role of the UN and other international organizations in the Covid world.

After July 29th, we're going to take a brief pause for August, and I actually want to use that time to digest, reflect on and exploit some of the amazing educational materials we've already created with these videos and the transcripts. And we're going to continue to plan the directions we’ll take the World After Covid project in the fall.

Of course all these things, we do try to run everything on a shoestring here at Just World Educational, but they do take resources. If you like what we do, and you want to support our projects for the fall, go to our website,, and you will find a donate button and you can go there and click and donate as much as you are able.

But now mainly my role is to say a big thank you to Hilal Elver, who has been such an amazing resource. Hilal, I hope we could have you back sometime and thank you very much for being here. Thank you.

Hilal Elver (56:14)

Thank you very much for having me. I enjoyed very much the questions and conversation.

Helena Cobban (56:18):

Thank you. Great. Well, thank you, Hilal. Thank you, Charlotte Kates, who's been working behind the scenes here, and all the attendees  - all of you who've been here asking questions, hopefully taking notes.

We will be sharing all the links that were in the chat box; we'll be sharing those on our resource center. But if you want to save the chat box, I think you can do that. So thank you everybody. And see you next Wednesday here with Marjorie Cohn.

Goodbye and stay safe. Thank you. Goodbye.


Session Resources

Speakers for the Session


Hilal Elver


Helena Cobban


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