Protecting and Promoting Rural Small-Scale Producers: On the Front Lines of the Global COVID-19 Hunger Crisis

June 22, 2020

Joanna Veltri | Chief, Liaison Office for the Americas, IFAD and Rebecca Middleton | Executive Director, Alliance to End Hunger

The COVID-19 pandemic may be the greatest global disruption in our lifetimes – presenting us collectively and individually with unprecedented shocks, as well as enduring consequences and changes.  In addition to the immediate health-related challenges, millions in the United States and abroad have suffered income loss and unemployment, as well as the broader dislocations caused by the interruption of the regular daily practices that give meaning and fulfillment to our lives.  As tragic and inconvenient as these effects have been, there is a related and daunting disruption on the horizon – a hunger and food security crisis – that could significantly magnify the impact of the pandemic.

The Food Security Information Network (FSIN) recently published an alarming report that detailed a dire global hunger crisis unlike anything we have seen in decades. And according to projections from the World Food Program, about 265 million people in low and middle-income countries will be in acute food insecurity by the end of 2020 unless swift action is taken. This means that the number of people facing crisis-or-worse hunger conditions could double, and that – much like COVID-19 itself – this dire global hunger crisis could unfold and spread precipitously.

We know that in countries hit hard by food insecurity, smallholder family farms and the interconnected web of aggregators, processors and other small-scale enterprises in the value chain for food are disproportionally impacted.  We also know that these small-scale producers – especially women and youth – are an often-untapped solution to blunting the shocks of food crises around the world.  Avoiding a tragic global food security crisis will require smart, targeted interventions that provide financial support where and when needed, as well as the promotion of effective policies that promote social justice and support food systems that sustainably and inclusively deliver safe food to those most at risk.  Such programs and policies must also include or be paired with safety nets for those who live outside the reach of widespread systems of support.

The humanitarian work being done now is considerable – and requires considerable support, including to organizations such as the World Food Program (WFP). WFP is working to secure access to food and health equipment for the most vulnerable people. As we have seen, COVID-19 has laid bare some of the deeper weaknesses in both industrialized and developing countries.  Rural communities in countries who already were tackling serious development challenges will need expanded and increased interventions that can help build their resilience to the impacts of shocks like COVID-19, as well as climate change, conflict, economic downturns, and events such as the current devastation from locusts in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia.  This is where organizations such as the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) can play a critical role.

As a specialized agency of the United Nations, IFAD is a multilateral financial institution that provides loans to developing countries to strengthen the lives and livelihoods of people and communities in rural areas.  It is in these areas where 80 percent of the world’s food insecure people live and where, ironically, most of the food for consumption in those countries originates.

IFAD is working within the UN’s COVID-19 response framework to provide flexibility in the use of resources that IFAD has loaned to host governments for long-term development purposes.  This is no small sum, with projects valued at more than $7 billion impacting approximately 160 million smallholder farmers in 92 countries.  Redirecting project resources to invest in support mechanisms that deliver immediate relief to IFAD’s specific target group (i.e., rural farmers and small enterprises) is one step, and represents a prudent repurposing of investments to save lives.

However, a more aggressive and impactful mechanism is also needed.  With this mind, IFAD launched the Rural Poor Stimulus Facility (RPSF) in April with an initial $40 million commitment from other IFAD sources.  Through the RPSF, IFAD aims to reduce the severity of the food systems shocks caused by COVID-19, and facilitate timely recovery for rural communities. IFAD is currently working to mobilize an additional $200 million or more to enable its work alongside its partners, addressing the increased needs we anticipate in rural communities and among smallholder farmers.

Building household and community resilience in the midst of a global crisis is no easy task, but support for programs such as RPSF will provide relief to some of the most vulnerable people in the world.  Rural communities and smallholder farmers are the critical local solutions to make sure the current scenario does not translate into a food security crisis across the globe.  By responding to their needs as quickly and innovatively as possible, we will do the world a great service in terms of lives saved and communities preserved.

This is why partnerships between organizations like ours – those that implement and advocate for best practices – are so important. Now more than ever, we need to encourage reaching outside of our silos to build and promote sustainable relief and development in policy as well as practice. The Alliance to End Hunger, IFAD, and all of our partners need to work together to address the multifaceted impacts of COVID-19 in the developing world. Prioritizing investments, promoting and advocating for support for well-designed, targeted, and rapidly-deployed programs can help mitigate more serious impacts further in the future. More than ever, international cooperation will be key to help move out of a hunger crisis and into a food secure future.

About IFAD:

Since 1978, IFAD has invested $22.4 billion in helping 512 million rural people, empowering them to reduce poverty, increase food security, improve nutrition and strengthen resilience.  IFAD is an international financial institution and a United Nations specialized agency based in Rome – the United Nations food and agriculture hub.