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COVID-19

COVID-19 is the infectious disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, the most recently discovered coronavirus. The outbreak that began in Wuhan, China, in late 2019, has rapidly spread across the world, profoundly disrupting fundamental activities we all depend on, including agriculture and food systems – and endangering all those who depend on it as their livelihood.

The coronavirus pandemic is a global emergency affecting all countries, requiring immediate and sustained international action. While mitigating the terrible human and economic toll worldwide is rightly uppermost in our minds, we are also gravely concerned about the underlying problems this emergency exposes, especially for those most at risk for severe consequences – older people, poor households, the undernourished, and those who live in remote rural areas without access to services or help. These problems heighten the risks of the current pandemic and must not be neglected.

Some 736 million people currently live in extreme poverty, which is a root cause of many global problems, from ill health to social unrest to migration. Meanwhile, hunger was already on the rise for several years before the pandemic, devastating the lives of 690 million people, not only robbing them of a future but weakening their immunity and health – a more dangerous combination than ever in the present crisis. Food insecurity and poverty are most severe among rural marginalized groups, including women and youth.

There are worrying reports of COVID-19 taking hold among rural populations, where poverty, undernourishment and lack of access to essential healthcare make the population especially vulnerable Given that we focus on the poorest of the poor, we fear that the impact of COVID-19 on our beneficiary groups is likely to be especially pronounced.

Short-term crises can feed off long-term problems, gaps, underinvestment and vulnerabilities.

The spread of illness can devastate poor rural communities and small-scale food producers who already face challenges such as weak resilience, poor nutrition and limited access to resources and services. Many countries depend on these communities for their national food security. Nevertheless, the pandemic and related disruptions of trade, travel and markets could reduce food production and availability.

We have received multiple reports of supply chain interruptions affecting agricultural production in some of our beneficiary countries. At the same time, small-scale farmers, with the support of IFAD and governments, are proving key actors to guarantee access to food for local populations amid the disruptions food systems are suffering. More broadly, the crisis is expected to have profound effects on the global economy, which will certainly affect small-scale rural producers on a much broader scale.

Mitigating the effects of the outbreak involves delivering support directly to the populations who need it most.

Around 63 per cent of the world’s poorest people work in agriculture, the overwhelming majority on small farms. Most of the poorest, hungriest and most marginalized people live in rural areas, and that is where the development community now needs to focus its mid- to long-term efforts.

Key messages

  • COVID-19 is a global pandemic that is having tangible effects on the agriculture sector.
  • In addition to its potential health effects, COVID-19 threatens to profoundly affect the livelihoods of poor rural farmers who depend on agriculture.
  • Given that we focus on the poorest of the poor, we fear that the impact of COVID-19 on our beneficiary groups is likely to be especially pronounced.
  • Investments in rural agricultural programmes can help people become more self-reliant, mitigate the impact of severe events, increase rural prosperity, ensure more sustainable food systems and food security, and create greater resilience in fragile states. 
  • Economic growth in agriculture is two to three times more effective at reducing poverty and food insecurity than growth in other sectors. Investments in small-scale agriculture can help revive food production and create jobs following a crisis and enable rural communities to recover.

For the latest information on novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), please refer to the World Health Organization.

Related Publications

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IFAD’s Rural Poor Stimulus Facility

June 2019
Given the magnitude of the challenge presented by this crisis, IFAD has launched a multi-donor COVID-19 Rural Poor Stimulus Facility (RPSF) to improve the resilience of rural livelihoods by ensuring timely access to inputs, information, markets and liquidity.

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South Sudan small-scale producers receive support from IFAD to safeguard their livelihoods in the face of the COVID-19 crisis

May 2021 - NEWS
IFAD will provide much needed funding to assist 23,900 vulnerable rural people (4,780 households) in the Republic of South Sudan. The IFAD grant will help reduce the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their farming activities and safeguard their livelihoods.

Governments need to halt the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on rural women, says IFAD President on International Day of Rural Women

October 2020 - NEWS
Our food supply is at risk if we don’t start prioritizing rural women during this pandemic, said Gilbert F. Houngbo, President of IFAD in a strong call to governments to increase their investments in rural women.

IFAD joins with partners to build resilience and boost development in the Sahel

December 2020 - NEWS
IFAD is joining with FAO and WFP - as well as the G5 Sahel and the Green Climate Fund to revitalize economic activities and food systems in the Group of Five Sahel countries and in the Republic of Senegal.

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Small-scale farmers can help build resilient food systems in a post–COVID-19 world

May 2020 - BLOG
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 820 million people were living in hunger. Tens of millions more will join them if we do not take the right actions, and quickly.

Building up family farmers’ resilience through nature-based solutions in Latin America and the Caribbean

June 2020 - BLOG
Resilience has become the talk of the town in the development community.

IFAD country programmes adapt to the COVID-19 crisis: Updates from the Asia-Pacific region

September 2020 - BLOG
The scale of the challenge has become ever more daunting across the region.

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Digital information service helps small-scale farmers respond to COVID-19

April 2021 - STORY
The Kenya National Farmers’ Federation is implementing a mobile information platform to serve its members and other Kenyan farmers.

No ordinary solution: Afro-Colombian ingenuity in the fight against COVID-19

May 2020 - STORY
The story of the Afro-Colombian community has always been one of resilience. Historically, this group has faced the country’s highest rates of poverty and food insecurity, and has lacked access to many basic services.

Indigenous youth in agriculture during COVID-19

August 2020 - STORY
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many people to re-examine everything: their priorities, their jobs, even their roles in society.