At this time, I think it is important to highlight two aspects that I believe to be fundamental and that refer, firstly, to the need to ensure the active involvement of key local actors, in order to build a collective territorial governance that expresses the will and conviction to face the coronavirus pandemic; and secondly, the collective elaboration of a territorial strategic agenda for the reconstruction of the local economy and society, incorporating the existing challenges at the productive, ecological, social, institutional and health levels
Informing is not the same as participating.
First of all, it is necessary to remember that the effective participation of key territorial actors is a crucial issue, since without such participation it is not possible to advance with a plan of action against the pandemic and also to address the economic, social, environmental, health and institutional reconstruction agenda that is needed. By key territorial actors I am referring, in this case, to territorial governments; the knowledge sector, especially that linked to the food system, the health system and the supplies essential for life and health in the territory (water, energy, transport and housing, for example); local businesses; trade unions and workers' and peasants' associations; the self-employed; the financial sector with a presence in the territory; the organisations that make up the Social and Solidarity Economy; the main media; and the organisations of civil society, including, in particular, women's and youth associations.
However, it is necessary to be very clear that when talking about participation it is not enough to simply inform the citizens. Neither is it enough to have spaces for dialogue or conversation with some territorial actors. Informing or maintaining dialogue is not the same as participating. It is definitely necessary to promote the creation of forums, assemblies, committees or territorial tables for discussion and collective decision making in the face of the pandemic, which allow for a wealth of opinions and initiatives from key territorial actors and, above all, which allow for the construction of that fundamental intangible element that is territorial trust. Leadership should not be the result of a unilateral or vertical command, but of the trust generated in a collective effort and illusion in the face of the pandemic, for a bet on the future for the territories.
Unfortunately, our societies are not generally accustomed to these practices of collaboration, participation and joint discussion. What we intellectuals call territorial governance is more an elegant concept than a daily practice among most political and social leaders. Thus, in moments of crisis such as this, there is often a temptation to seek (or expect) centralised leadership in this "war" against the pandemic, as some call it, thus incorporating -incidentally- the authoritarian justification inherent in the exercise of military command.
In Spain, to give the closest example, the current government, which has inherited the perverse legacy of the policies of austerity, privatisation and cutbacks in public spending carried out by the neoliberal approaches of previous governments in health, education or scientific research, among others, usually informs the presidents of the Autonomous Communities on a regular basis, but does not usually discuss previously the actions to be taken. Nor do there appear to be forums for participation with municipal governments, which are, however, the first to have to deal, on a daily basis, with the situations generated by the pandemic. This is not, as we see, an ideological issue. Rather, it seems that we simply have difficulty in changing our ways of democratic functioning in the formation of institutions of participatory governance.
As Alain Jordà recently pointed out in the Ciudadinnova Bulletin, the pandemic has brought to light the importance of aspects that were previously insufficiently recognised and which must now be incorporated into any strategy for the future of territories and cities. These are collaborations between local actors, their active participation, territorial decentralisation, balance between rural and urban environments, gender equality, the importance of innovation systems, and the productive autonomy of countries. All these aspects will be much more important in the future than they were previously.
To this we must incorporate the changes required by restructuring based on the environmental sustainability of production processes, as well as on individual and collective forms of consumption, the change towards an energy model with full use of renewable energies, the sustainable management of urban and rural waste, and all the aspects highlighted by the "Fundamental Economy" which shows the importance of universal public services and their related infrastructures which, as a whole, generate a very significant percentage of total employment in our societies (Foundational Economy. The infrastructure of every life, 2018).
The agenda of economic, social, health, institutional and environmental reconstruction is not simply the recovery of previous economic growth
It would be, in my opinion, a mistake to limit oneself to trying to "recover" previous economic growth, which incorporates many of the components that explain the origins of these pandemics, such as the transformations caused in ecosystems and in our health by industrial agriculture, intensive livestock farming and the transnational food system, mostly hijacked by large corporations in the sector. We can also add reflections on the priority that is usually given in current economic growth to activities such as the manufacture of weapons or the flight of capital to tax havens, all of which diminish investment in the food and health system sectors and their related productive industrial activities. The work of Rob Wallace and other researchers, on the links between the current capitalist system and the Covid-19 pandemic, on the links between the current capitalist system and the Covid-19 pandemic , as well as that of researchers linked to Agroecology, such as Altieri and Nicholls, 2020, insist that it is precisely this type of intensive and hyperglobalised economic growth that is among the origins of this pandemic, as well as of other previous pandemics and those that will undoubtedly come, to continue with the same functioning that, it seems, is intended to "recover".
It is not, therefore, a question of "recovering" what we should eliminate. That is why I believe that it is a priority to strengthen the productive activities linked to the Fundamental Economy, in a strategy aimed at ensuring levels of sovereignty or autonomy in those essential territorial systems, especially the food system, the health and sanitation system, as well as their links with the rest of the territorial productive activities in their respective production chains, the water supply and the strategy for the conservation of territorial water basins, the supply of energy in the territory, logistics and the public transport system, the system of citizen security, access to decent housing for the population, and those other basic universal services and infrastructures linked to them that are identified as absolutely necessary in this exercise of effective participation by the local population in the forums, assemblies, committees or territorial tables in the face of the pandemic.
This includes, naturally, the incorporation of productive efficiency and quality, environmental sustainability, social inclusion and food and health security in the territories, as part of the necessary readjustments that must be incorporated into our production and consumption practices, in order to advance towards proposals for a Circular Economy. For all this it is necessary to advance in the conformation of local innovation systems in order to link the existing potential in all the territories, and to be able to visualise in detail the different links of the productive chains and value chains in the different territories, thus showing their orientation by a strategy that highlights, among other aspects, the need for sufficient territorial sovereignty, especially of those activities and products that today are the object of imports due to internal productive insufficiencies to ensure such essential equipment, products and infrastructures. In short, we must not abandon the decisions linked to the fight against the pandemic to a productive orientation where economic globalisation and the criterion of prices and markets end up dictating its logic of mercantile operation.
This cannot be the logic behind the operations when it is a question of putting criteria based on the safety and health of people, the local creation of decent and sustainable jobs, and the promotion of local production to avoid adverse environmental impacts, such as the generation of greenhouse gases. At this time, it is a priority to equip ourselves with elements in which people and their health, the guarantee of their living conditions and the sustainability of the natural environment in which we live, become the central criteria of our actions and production, consumption and life strategies.
The coronavirus pandemic has shown the need to make decisions with the citizens in mind, and this highlights the importance of territorial governments, as well as the design of local development policies, with changes in the ways of producing, employment, and consumption. Thus, it is also necessary to emphasise the importance of strengthening the link in the "rural-urban spectrum" around the nodes that constitute the intermediate cities and towns close to the scattered area of rural settlements. The report on the global state of Food and Agriculture carried out by FAO in 2017 has underlined the importance of medium sized cities as a way of addressing the fight against poverty and hunger, two key themes of Agenda 2030 on the Sustainable Development Goals. In short, it is not just a question of thinking about what our future will be like. There is a need to transform it right away.
Francisco Alburquerque Llorens
Born in Córdoba (Andalusia) in 1944. Francisco is an international consultant of Local Economic Development and associated researcher at Orkestra-Basque Institute of Competitiveness. Currently he is a regional advisor for the Training Programme on Local Economic Development with Social Inclusion for Latin America and the Caribbean (www.conectadel.org), of the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF), Inter-American Development Bank Group.