Community solutions for a nature-based, resilient future beyond COVID-19

Globally, COVID-19 has claimed more than one million lives and disrupted even more. At the same time, locust swarms have ravaged farms in Africa, forest fires are devastating the west coast of the United States and floods have affected many people in Asia. It’s a stern reminder that we must work better with nature to avoid greater spread of disease and natural disasters.

Article, 07 October 2020
A woman stands to the side of a barren area through which small shoots of a mangrove forest can be seen

A budding mangrove forest in Tanzania. Replanting mangrove forests helps prevent sea water intrude into local groundwater sources and turn the water salty (Photo: UN Environment Programme, via FlickrCC BY-NC 2.0)

Beyond COVID-19: grassroots visions of change

This article is part of an IIED series that brings together forward-looking responses on specific themes in reaction to the coronavirus pandemic, drawing on our partners’ insights and providing a platform for voices from the global South.

Here, IIED senior researcher Xiaoting Hou-Jones focuses on working with nature to prevent, mitigate and respond to viruses.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed, and made worse, deeply entrenched vulnerability and inequality in our society, it has revealed some useful lessons on how we can become more resilient and adaptable, ready to face other risks, such as climate change. 

It has shown how local communities and grassroots organisations are indispensable in championing any change and are already innovating to build a better future.

IIED and members of Friends of Ecosystem-based Adaptation (FEBA) have collated photo and video stories from communities from 14 countries showing how working with nature brings many benefits to local communities.

We also led a virtual workshop with 12 partners during the recent 14th International Conference on Community-based Adaptation (CBA14). The session engaged almost 90 participants representing communities, government, UN agencies, NGOs, researchers and the private sector, urging them to share their visions for post-COVID-19 changes and lessons learnt from community-led nature-based solutions (NbS) for adaptation.

Long-term support for change

The stories and workshop discussion highlighted the following lessons and visions for change post-COVID-19:

  • Building holistic resilience through working with nature: men and women smallholder farmers, traditional farming communities of ethnic minorities and other groups made vulnerable or marginalised through, for example, natural disasters, are bearing the brunt of interlinked societal challenges including climate change, biodiversity loss and pandemics.

    Helping them to building their resilience to all those risks requires integrated solutions. Nature-based solutions for adaptation (Facebook video), for example, can ensure the ecological resilience that underpins societal resilience.

Farming communities in China responding to COVID-19. The pandemic disrupted transportation and travel, yet farmers in the Stone Village had secure access to seeds and were able to cultivate a variety of vegetables. This helped to enhance local food security, as community members had access to nutritious and affordable food during the lockdown

  • Valuing and learning from traditional knowledge: Indigenous Peoples and women and men in local communities are already championing nature-based solutions and hold valuable traditional knowledge, building on their decades of experience of implementing those solutions.

    Combining traditional knowledge with modern science is key to developing successful NbS to achieve community resilience. Governments should empower and engage those who hold this knowledge.
  • Long-term investment to strengthen local organisations: the most vulnerable communities often have limited access to finance and public services and heavily rely on local community and grassroots organisations to support them in difficult times.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, forest and farm producer organisations have mobilised emergency funds and protective equipment for local producers in need and provided extra storage facilities. Community-based seed banks that conserve agrobiodiversity have also made sure all farmers have secure access to seeds for the sowing season. 

Local fishmen, farmers and forest communities provided each other with cheap and nutritious foods and herbal medicines when the food and medicine supply chain was disrupted. Community saving groups have used collective savings to help those in need in their communities to weather the lockdown’s economic blow. 

These local collective organisations are key to mobilising communities to work with nature at scale and aggregating small informal businesses to access better finance to build communities’ long-term resilience.

But building those local collective organisations takes time. Governments, donors and development partners need to provide long-term finance to support and build strong, local collective organisations to mobilise and scale up integrated solutions for resilient communities. 

Communities central to change

Those visions for change were also echoed throughout CBA14, which engaged more than 500 people from 77 countries through a series of innovative virtual events. As governments around the world design and implement COVID-19 recovery policies and economic stimulus packages, they need to take heed of those grassroots voices.

They must prioritise funding for integrated nature-based solutions and channel more long-term finance to strengthen local organisations – a point acknowledged by Zac Goldsmith, UK international environment minister, in his closing contribution to CBA14

The COVID-19 pandemic reminds us that we can no longer afford to focus on designing systems and solutions that only provide short-term fixes. Rather, we must embrace solutions that can enhance our long-term resilience.

If we can learn from traditional knowledge and Indigenous Peoples and support local communities that are championing change, we will be able to chart a new course, working with nature for a resilient future.


How has ecosystem-based adaptation helped communities respond to COVID-19? A collection of photo and video stories from 14 countries – please share your stories by commenting on the album

Working with nature to build back better from COVID-19: inspirations from farmers in China – a blog built on stories from communities collated by the China Farmers’ Seed Network

Rain-silience in EbA: helping communities respond to COVID-19, a video shows the International Rainwater Harvesting Alliance's work with local NGOs Kanchan Nepal, APAF-Senegal and Guthi

When nets catch more than fish: a blog showcasing how community-based marine conservation activities are also helping communities to cope better with COVID-19

Thriving in diversity: smallholders organising for climate resilience – an IIED briefing highlighting the important role forest and farm producer organisations can play in building resilience. 

Building back better from COVID-19: leaders and their communities are key to recovery, a blog on the Rare website


Xiaoting Hou Jones (, senior researcher (biodiversity), IIED's Natural Resources research group