Working with nature to build back better from COVID-19: inspirations from farmers in China

Guest blogger Yufen Chuang and IIED senior researcher Xiaoting Hou Jones reflect on why working with nature to adapt to climate change can offer valuable lessons on how to build back better from COVID-19.

Xiaoting Hou Jones's picture Yufen Chuang's picture
Yufen Chuang is communications specialist for the Farmers’ Seed Network (China); Xiaoting Hou Jones is a senior researcher in IIED's Natural Resources research group
23 June 2020
two women with a big basket of corn

Two women collecting seeds from maize (Photo: copyright Shichun Yang)

The COVID-19 crisis has shown that the health and the future of people and nature are intertwined. As global leaders called for ‘care for nature’ to keep people safe and well, on World’s Environment Day on 6th June, China Farmers’ Seed Network collated stories (in Chinese) from 14 farming communities in China to show how working with nature can help people cope better with, and recover better from, crises such as COVID-19 and climate change. 

Supported by China Farmers’ Seed Network, those farmers have been working with nature to adapt to climate change. Working closely with scientists and drawing on traditional knowledge, farmers collectively conserve and breed crop varieties that are better adapted to climate risks like drought.

Map of China with arrows pointing to specific place names

They revive traditional farming techniques for pest control, such as combining rice with duck and fish production. They practice and promote traditional intercropping to increase biodiversity on farms, and better manage soil and water. 

As COVID-19 continues to disrupt transportation and travel, these farmers found that working with nature has made their farming communities more resilient not only to climate change but also to COVID-19 impacts.

They have secure access to seeds as they conserve and breed seeds themselves locally. They grow a diversity of food on their farms so access to nutritious and affordable food has not been disrupted. Diversity of produce has also reduced the loss of cash flow as many produces can still be sold well locally.

In some villages, COVID-19 meant some community members can no longer go to cities to find jobs – but the farming activities provided them with alternative incomes. Many farmers are happy and healthy prepping their land, sowing seeds, caring for their produce, consuming the diversity of food produced locally and continuing breeding experiments for even more diverse and resilient future farms! 

While global negotiations on climate change and biodiversity are delayed, these communities in China have not stopped working with nature to address climate change challenges, and their efforts have also made them more resilient in the COVID-19 crisis.

The stories from those communities echo strongly with IIED’s recent research that shows working with nature to adapt to climate change (also known as ecosystem-based adaptation) is cost-effective and can bring a wide range of social, economic and environmental benefits to local communities.

As governments consider how to protect food security during COVID-19, and how to build more resilient food systems post COVID-19, they must ensure that recovery policies and investments support integrated solutions for people, nature and the climate and those local actors who are leading the way in implementing them.

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Nature-based solutions that work for people, nature and climate was one of the themes of the 14th international conference on Community-Based Adaptation (CBA14), held online from 21-25 September 2020. Find out more about our first digital CBA conference, and read about our CBA 'setting the stage' online event held on 21 July 2020.