With the COVID-19 pandemic and economic slowdown threatening the lives and livelihoods of the world’s most vulnerable people, the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has committed US$40 million to support farmers and rural communities to continue growing and selling food.
IFAD’s new multi-donor fund, the COVID-19 Rural Poor Stimulus Facility, will mitigate the effects of the pandemic on food production, market access and rural employment. As part of the broader UN socio-economic response framework, the Facility will ensure that farmers in the most vulnerable countries have timely access to inputs, information, markets and liquidity. On top of its own contribution, IFAD aims to raise at least $200 million more from Member States, foundations and the private sector.
“We need to act now to stop this health crisis transforming into a food crisis,” said Gilbert F. Houngbo, President of IFAD. “The fallout from COVID-19 may push rural families even deeper into poverty, hunger and desperation, which is a real threat to global prosperity and stability. With immediate action, we can provide rural people with the tools to adapt and ensure a quicker recovery, averting an even bigger humanitarian crisis.”
With their movements restricted to contain further spread of the virus, many small-scale farmers are unable to access markets to sell produce or to buy inputs, such as seeds or fertilizer. Closures of major transport routes and export bansare also likely to affect food systems adversely. As entire production chains are disrupted and unemployment rises, the most vulnerable include daily labourers, small businesses and informal workers, who are very often women and young people. The return of workers from cities affected by lockdowns will put further strain on rural households, which will also stop receiving much needed remittances.
About 80 percent of the world’s poorest and most food insecure people live in rural areas. Even before the outbreak, more than 820 million people were going hungry every day. A recent United Nations University study warned that in a worst-case scenario, the economic impact of the pandemic could push a further half-billion people into poverty.
“This pandemic is threatening the gains we have made in reducing poverty over the past years. To avoid serious disruption to rural economies, it is essential to ensure agriculture, food chains, markets and trade continue to function,” said Houngbo.
“A majority of the world’s most impoverished people are already suffering the consequences of climate change and conflict. An economic downturn in rural areas could compound these effects, generating more hunger and increasing instability, especially in fragile states.”
The Rural Poor Stimulus Facility will focus on the following activities:
- Provide inputs for production of crops, livestock and fisheries to small-scale producers so that they can weather the immediate effects of the economic crisis.
- Facilitate access to markets to support small-scale farmers to sell their products in conditions where restricted movement is interrupting the functioning of markets, including providing logistics and storage support.
- Provide targeted funds for rural financial services to ensure sufficient liquidity is available and to ease immediate loan repayment requirements to maintain services, markets and jobs for poor rural people.
- Use digital services to share key information on production, weather, finance and markets.
IFAD has significant experience in working in fragile situations improving the resilience of rural populations. For example, in Sierra Leone during the Ebola outbreak, IFAD-supported banks were the sole providers of banking and financial services in affected areas. They provided timely assistance during the outbreak and supported the renewal of the rural economy after the crisis passed.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, IFAD was already stepping up its programmes and calling on member states to increase investments in rural development to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2 – ending hunger.
“A timely response to the pandemic is an opportunity to rebuild the world’s food systems along more sustainable and inclusive lines and build the resilience of rural populations to crisis, whether related to health, climate or conflict,” said Houngbo.
IFAD has received requests from governments in more than 65 countries to help respond to the impact of the pandemic. It has already adapted its projects and diverted funds to support this.