Covid crisis: extending social protection to rural populations is the key to recovery

Expanding social protection for rural populations is a prerequisite for a sustainable, inclusive and resilient recovery from COVID-19 and must be at the heart of post-pandemic recovery policies, QU Dongyu, Director General of the Organization Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), said Wednesday at the Global Forum for a People-Centred Recovery organized by the International Labor Organization (ILO).

Due to a number of challenges faced by rural populations, such as remoteness, widespread informality and low and irregular incomes linked to the seasonality of agribusiness activities, rural populations do not have adequate access to social protection services, in particular contributory services, the Director-General said noting that rural populations have been hardest hit by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has further exacerbated inequalities between those who benefit from health and social protection coverage and those who do not.

Qu was speaking at a session of the forum which also saw the participation of Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, and was moderated by journalist and broadcaster Zeinab Badawi.

Gaps in social protection

For FAO, social protection is a set of interventions whose objective is to reduce social and economic risks and vulnerability, and to alleviate extreme poverty and deprivation. This can include social assistance, such as public transfers in cash or in kind, and labor market protection, such as unemployment benefits, skills building and worker training.

Qu stressed the need to tailor social protection policies to the specific needs of each country, especially in Africa, where more than 80% of the population does not have access to social protection benefits of any kind.

Despite the recent expansion of social protection-related assistance around the world, only 1 in 10 households in sub-Saharan Africa and less than 1 in 5 households in South Asia have been reached by any type of country-specific social protection measures. COVID, added the Director-General. .

More than 80 percent of the world’s rural self-employed are informal, and the agribusiness sector has the highest level of informal employment. In addition, people living in rural areas are twice as likely to be in informal employment as those living in urban areas.

Qu echoed UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ recent call to accelerate progress in creating decent jobs and expanding social protection to close the gaps while contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In order to promote decent jobs in rural areas, the Director-General stressed the need for a holistic approach outlining three main areas: focusing on rural development based on the specific characteristics and competitive advantages of each developing country, including investing in food processing as one of the most effective approaches to providing opportunities, especially to youth and women; put in place enabling policies for small and medium enterprises; and vocational training so that farmers can acquire certain levels of skills.

Strong social protection systems, strong livelihoods

Strong social protection systems will pave the way for more efficient, more inclusive, more resilient and more sustainable agrifood systems, which are at the heart of the livelihoods of 4.5 billion people, including more than 1.1 billion people in poverty who live and work in rural areas, says the Director General.

Qu reiterated FAO’s support to Members in adapting their social protection policies to include measures tailored to the needs of people whose livelihoods depend on agriculture.

Examples of such support include enabling herder households to collect payments along transhumance routes, facilitating their access to electronic payments, or recognizing the seasonality of fisher livelihoods by increasing the value social transfer payments during the off-season. More broadly, this involves making social protection systems more responsive to shocks to agrifood livelihoods, such as droughts, pest outbreaks and floods.

Mobilize funding

The progressive extension of social protection will require financing, the Director-General underlined. Without investment, innovation, technology and above all digitization of agrifood systems, we cannot achieve more inclusive development, he said, noting that building strong social protection systems will also require efficient, effective and coherent partnerships. and global solidarity.

FAO and social protection

FAO recognizes social protection as a universal right. The Organization is an active member of the Global Partnership for Universal Social Protection and works closely with the ILO, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Bank and others to establish a Consortium on Social Protection.

Last year, FAO and ILO launched the Joint Report on Extending Social Protection to Rural People, which outlines a common inter-agency approach to extending provision in rural areas.

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Joel C. Hicks