April 27, 2020.- With half of the planet’s population locked down, the global economy brought to a halt and the number of cases reaching into the millions, it is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest crisis of our time.
As in many other places in the world, prospects in the Latin America and the Caribbean region (LAC) seem grim. With 98,202 cases and 4,505 deaths confirmed in the region as of 20 April, the IMF foresees a regional GDP drop of 5.2 per cent. This recession will disproportionately affect the vulnerable and the poor – and we might also see a dramatic reversal in the hard-earned gains in poverty reduction.
To avoid a great deal of suffering in the region, governments, civil society and international organizations must stand together to face this crisis.
At the beginning of April, Ministers and Secretaries of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development from 26 LAC countries released a statement on COVID-19 and the risks it poses to food supply chains. They promised to work together with international organizations and UN agencies – especially the three Rome-based agencies, IFAD, FAO and WFP – to ensure that the 620 million people living in the region have access to healthy food even under the current difficult circumstances.
IFAD is committed to assisting LAC countries in lessening this impact, particularly in rural areas where the institution has been working as a partner for more than 40 years. And realities such as ASSARIPI’s – a group of IFAD-supported artisan women in North-Eastern Brazil who are producing protective equipment for health care workers – inspire us to seek the same flexibility, solidarity and effectiveness they have shown while facing this crisis.
We began by holding rapid remote consultations with the governments we work with – and by committing to stay in continuous touch. These consultations have enabled us to identify ways in which IFAD can contribute to their efforts to deal with the crisis, especially by adjusting or reorienting ongoing projects whenever possible.
We have already identified US$34.9 million in rapid response funds for governments to allocate according to need. In several cases, these funds will allow governments to extend the lifetime of current projects, so that they can use IFAD staff’s expertise and knowledge to keep on supporting family farmers in distress.
The projects currently under implementation are already supporting initiatives that will help family farmers keep their jobs and enterprises going while supporting their communities as food suppliers. In El Salvador, Rural Adelante has sped up investment plans in four eastern departments, allowing family farmers’ associations to produce vegetables, fruits and dairy products to supply local markets. In Ecuador, FAREPS is working with rural associations in the Morona Santiago province to set up a network that will keep the local food supply chain active by financing transportation and storage facilities. In Brazil’s Bahia State, Pro-Semi-Arid is encouraging its beneficiaries to sign up for the COVID-19 radar platform, a virtual marketplace that will create new marketing opportunities in the recovery phase of the pandemic. These are just a few examples of IFAD-supported initial responses to the crisis.
Overall, the IFAD-financed active portfolio in the region amounts to over US$530 million, which will be fully deployed to address recovery once the lockdown is lifted. In the meantime, we are looking ahead and discussing with LAC authorities how forthcoming projects will address the challenges that COVID-19 will leave behind. We will focus on early recovery and wider impacts, in line with National Recovery Plans.
Solutions embedded in future projects will follow what we call a 3R approach (Recovery, Reactivation and Resilience). All project designs will focus on bringing farmers and rural households back into business as speedily as possible, while ensuring that inclusiveness and resilience are built into an innovative vision of sustainable rural transformation. These projects will leverage further resources in coordination with regional financial institutions, with whom partnerships are currently being revamped.
The new operations will include measures such as simplifying business processes to benefit larger groups of beneficiaries at a faster pace; improving access to public food procurement programmes; strengthening the existing local supply chains; developing digital communications tools to help farmers sell their products and reconnect to supply chains; and providing technical assistance to governments, to strengthen synergies between inclusive production and social protection.
It is clear that measures to lessen the impact of COVID-19 must be implemented in a way that does not affect family farmers’ productive capacities. Both during and after the crisis, they are meant to play a key role in putting healthy food on people’s tables.
Crises are opportunities for change. We should seize this challenge as an opportunity to show how family farmers are an essential part of the social fabric, finally giving them the recognition they deserve – and, with it, the means they need to thrive.
- National Programme of Rural Economic Transformation for Living Well - Rural Adelante
- Strengthening the Rural Actors of the Popular and Solidarity Economy Project (FAREPS)
- Rural Sustainable Development Project in the Semi-arid Region of Bahia