Civil society in Guinea-Bissau responds to COVID-19 and food crisis

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A woman harvests rice in Bianga, Guinea-Bissau.
 Rural women in Guinea-Bissau are champions of biodiversity.Credit: Tiniguena

In Guinea-Bissau, Inter Pares counterpart Tiniguena is playing a key role during the pandemic. In addition to ongoing support and advocacy, Inter Pares is providing extra funds for Tiniguena to respond to COVID-19 and food insecurity.

Although the number of reported COVID-19 cases in Guinea-Bissau is low, the number is increasingly rapidly and probably much higher due to very limited means to track infections. The country’s public health system is chronically weak, further weakened by recent political instability. The dual health and political crisis in the country is having an impact on food security, the economy and social stability. According to reports from the World Food Program, the country’s food reserves are running critically low. The government is struggling to deal with the current situation, unequipped to face the prospect of food supply chains failing, the virus spreading, and social instability increasing.

Measures implemented to slow the spread of the virus (confinement and social distancing) are hard to enforce as much of the population lives hand to mouth, needing to sell merchandise or produce in markets or on the street to have something to eat. Schools are closed, meaning kids who would usually have at least have one full meal a day through a school meals program are going hungry. Many of the farmers markets are also closed which means farmers cannot sell their produce.

As rates of infection and hunger increase, local civil society organizations such as Tiniguena are playing a key role in responding to this multifaceted crisis.

  • Through community radio, Tiniguena is sharing public health information (e.g. hand washing, physical distancing).
  • In collaboration with the World Food Program, Tiniguena is redirecting school meals to households.
  • Tiniguena is also providing farmers with seeds to avoid a delay in planting for the next season.

All of these efforts need to be scaled up across the country. Through the National Food Security and Nutrition Network (RESSAN), Tiniguena is collaborating with other civil society groups collaborate to ensure help is reaching those who need it most.

In the mid-term, it is clear to Tiniguena that the country needs to bolster its food sovereignty and not rely so much on imports to feed itself. Tiniguena intends to build a greater number of local seed banks with local varieties to guarantee food security for the long term. These seed banks will safeguard agrobiodiversity and the knowledge of farmers associated with it. At the heart of this strategy is working with rural women’s organizations as they are the repositories of knowledge about seeds as well as on the front line feeding their families and taking care of loved ones.

Inter Pares will continue to support Tiniguena in its efforts to respond to the emerging sanitary and food crisis in Guinea-Bissau while also building food systems that are more resilient and protect the country’s fragile biodiversity.

Inter Pares will continue to support Tiniguena in its efforts to respond to the sanitary and food crisis in Guinea-Bissau while also building food systems that are more resilient and protect the country’s fragile biodiversity.

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