Regime dynamics, challenges and pressures in the Greek agrifood regime during the pandemic Covid-19
Kostas Vattes, Alexandros Vakoulas, Irini Theodorakopoulou, Sotiris Alexakis, Stathis Arapostathis, Constantine Iliopoulos
Due to the recent ongoing pandemic, policymakers, NGOs and public policy analysts have pointed out the relation of the industrial scale livestock production and global food chain to the pandemics. Their interconnection is dual: A. Due to industrial scale animal husbandry production and the environmental conditions in the animal production, viruses are spreading within the herd and from there to the local human community and beyond. Industrialization in the production and the changes in the environmental conditions of the animal living have been attributed as one of the causes of the emergence and spread of viruses. B. Due to globalization, food chains have been complex and extended and this triggered concerns about the resilience of food supply and the risk of food scarcity during the recent COVID-19 crisis (FAO, 2013).Studies of recent epidemics, such as the bird flu virus (H5N1) in 2005 and the Swine influenza (H1N1) in 2009, have linked pandemic risk to the intensive and industrial scale livestock industry. Mechanizing production, integrating quick fattening and confining the animals have triggered pandemics increasing also the risk of spreading the diseases from animal herds to human communities. The high productivity and the short slaughter of animals provide a constantly renewed supply of immune deficiency, fueling the development of an infectious power (Otte et al., 2007; Wallace, 2016). Three types of pandemics can be identified: a. pandemics in the animal livestock with no impact on human health, but with a severe impact on economic sustainability of food business and their associated communities, b. pandemics in the animal livestock that can infect the human populations, c. pandemics in the human population that emerge due to dietary cultural practices or other factors that are linked indirectly to the animal livestock (COVID-19). While climate change has been a key societal challenge and has influenced the policies and the priorities in the agrifood sector, pandemics have stressed the importance of integrating the risks and uncertainties that pandemic crises introduce in the food chain and in relation to food security and economic and social sustainability. These highly-risk production systems are integrated into the global food supply chain. This integration makes them even more vulnerable and unstable. The Covid-19 pandemic strongly highlights system’s weaknesses. Lockdown measures, the parallel increase of food consumption in urban areas and the possibility of collapsing of global chains and logistics, forced FAO warn for the risk of a global food shortage. Additionally, consuming habits in many developed and developing countries have shifted, while at the same time food supply chains were shortening and the distribution network focused on the domestic and local consumption.
The transition studies approaches and more particularly the approaches that work within the context of Multi Level Perspective (MLP), stress the issue of pressures on the regime actors and the way that they respond as an index of the adaptive capacity of the regime in radical and less radical “shocks” and pressures. Transition scholars have pointed out that the issue of governance and specifically of reflexive governance introduces parameters that are related with the power and the agency of the incumbent regime actors to a. understand and perceive the problems and the challenges in a specific way, b. to allocate resources (human and financial) to respond to the challenges that the regime encounters, c. to select the pressures while neglecting others. The “mechanics” of responses are really important in understanding the governance of the regime under critical events like a pandemic (Voß and Kemp, 2005; Hendiks and Grin, 2010; Smith and Stirling, 2007; Meadowcroft, 2007). Reflexive governance is related to an innovative and strategic thinking of changing socio-technical systems (Loorbach & Rotmans, 2006; Schot, 1998).
In the above analytical context, the present paper aims a. to provide a deep understanding of the perception of COVID19 by the incumbent regime actors in the Greek agrifood system, b. to understand the responses and the articulation of pressures strategies they have developed, c. to provide insights about the Greek case and its specificities in the global setting. The emphasis is placed on meat production and associated supply chain systems. The paper is unravelling the articulation of pressures by incumbent actors and their strategies in steering change towards the resilience of the system both at the institutional and technological and industrial level. The analysis is based on a review of published reports, public press coverage and interviews with selected key actors. Alternative circuits of food provision, such as short food supply chains (SFSCs) where food is produced near the consumer, were seen as a potential answer to the food distribution challenges posed by the ensuing lockdowns and international restrictions (Vittersø et al., 2019; Cappelli and Cini, 2020). Although the analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on SFSCs at the time of writing is mainly informal, several types of adverse impacts have been reported (Bene C., 2020). Examples include the reduction in workers availability due to mobility restrictions especially for SFSCs that rely on seasonal migrant workers, transport restrictions, increase in input costs, demand decline due to consumers’ income reductions etc.
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