Re-imagining Food Security during Covid-19: Buen Vivir in the Andes

In the final installment of our masters students' blog series, Lauren Smithstone discusses rising food insecurity over the last decade, in particular during the global pandemic.

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By Lauren Smithstone.

Lauren Smithstone is a student on our MSc Environmental Change and International Development course.

Contrary to the imaginaries of Western notions of development and ongoing progress, food insecurity has been steadily rising over the past decade. The FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP, and WHO attribute this deterioration to climate-change and its related conflicts. However, these organisations continue to downplay their responsibility for the food crisis which can be traced back to their neoliberal policies designed to advance global capitalism (Borras and Mohamed, 2020). Food insecurity is not the result of food scarcity, in fact, food production annually exceeds the amount needed to feed the entire population. Food insecurity is, however, the result of capitalism and the corporate food regime

Food has gradually been deprived of its non-economic qualities by transforming from “a local resource held in common into a private, transnational commodity.” Indigenous good living philosophies such as Buen Vivir can help us to rethink food security by offering a radical alternative to the capitalist worldview. Buen Vivir, roughly translated to ‘good living’, is a pluralistic ontology which decentres human beings in favour of a holistic understanding of life. Humans are seen as part of a network of relationships which extend to one another as well as to Pachamama (Mother Earth) (Villalba, 2013).

During the Covid-19 pandemic the vulnerabilities of capitalism were exposed for the world to experience. Likewise, indigenous communities in the Andes lost their main income source through lockdowns and isolations and the subsequent inability to sell in urban centres. From these cracks in the capitalist system flourished alternative spaces for acts of solidarity and reciprocity in the form of the Minga of Food. The Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) organised spaces for barter and fair markets as local villages adopted a cooperative-sharing system and exchanged their produce based on factors such as the needs of the people involved and the desire to improve social cohesion, rather than the exchange of money (Córdoba, et al., 2021). 

Farmer's Market in Arcabuco, Colombia
Farmer's Market in Arcabuco, Colombia by momentcaptured1 (via Flickr).

However, some products could not be exchanged using a barter dynamic and several markets such as those in the coffee region had to continue using cash because those seeking to buy coffee came mostly from urban centres (Córdoba, et al., 2021). Therefore, the feasibility of such economies can depend on the agroecological area and the types of food they produce. This is an example of when an Indigenous economy cannot exist completely outside of the realms of capitalism but highlights that the coexistence of mixed economies is possible. This understanding of hybridity and plurality is important so as not to romanticise or essentialise traditional reciprocal and co-operative economies or Indigenous worldviews (Warren and Jackson, 2002). 

Nevertheless, through the customary practice of bartering the value of food was redefined from a commodity with monetary value into a local resource able to heal communities, build a collective identity, strengthen a sense of autonomy, and deepen social bonds between villagers. Andean communities reinvigorated the values of Buen Vivir to help each other survive a crisis through food security, something which the corporate food system failed to do.


Borras, A. M., Mohamed, F. A., (2020). ‘Health Inequities and the Shifting Paradigms of Food Security, Food Insecurity, and Food Sovereignty’, International Journal of Health Services, 50(3), pp. 299–313.

Córdoba, D., Peredo, A. M., Chaves, P., (2021). ‘Shaping alternatives to development: Solidarity and reciprocity in the Andes during COVID-19’, World Development, 139, 105323.

Jackson, J. E., Warren, K. B., (2002). ‘Introduction: Studying Indigenous Activism in Latin America’, in Jackson, J. E., Warren, K. B., (eds.) Indigenous Movements, Self-Representation, and the State in Latin America. Austin: University of Texas Press, pp. 1-46.

Villalba, U., (2013) ‘Buen Vivir vs Development: a paradigm shift in the Andes?’, Third World Quarterly, 34(8), pp. 1427-1442

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