Food healthy vegetables- CC via Wikimedia
CAIRO - 29 May 2020: One of the major threats caused by the crisis of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) is increasing the number of the poor around the globe, although the world does not suffer from a shortage of food.
In a Q&A session organized by the Thomson Reuters Foundation as part of a Covid-19 professional development program run in association with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Dr. Gilbert F. Houngbo, the IFAD president, stated that there is no food shortage globally, but the interaction between the components of the whole food system can affect rural farmers and communities.
He attributed the vulnerability to poverty to certain factors, including the lockdown that has been imposed by countries to curb the spread of the COVID-19 and the logistic shortage, noting that this would affect the other importing countries.
“I do believe that countries should not close down their borders. If there's something we could do, [...] it is controlling the people’s flow that is affected by the COVID-19,” he said.
Houngbo added that the lockdown inside some countries had prevented the production from reaching the local market and this would cause loss of the production as well. “30-35% of the food produced is wasted or lost and this [percent] could be increased,” he continued.
The IFAD president called for improving the national food scheme to ensure how many reserves that the countries have to be able to face the shocks like COVID-19.
He also noted that poverty is one of the major risks and it is predicted that the many millions of people can go back to poverty, which had downed slowly since the 90s, due to the economic downfalls that have been caused by the coronavirus, he continued.
According to the World Food Programme, 265 million people would suffer from hunger by the end of this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In response to a question on whether countries should reassess the balance of producing to feed their people and producing crops for export, Houngbo is of the belief that the best way is to avoid a monoculture approach and to produce a matter of balancing, particularly amid the COVID-19 crisis. He called on the countries that depend on the imports even in their more staple food to make a balance and produce food on the national level.
IFAD’s response to COVID-19 crisis
In mitigation of the effects of the COVID-19 on the rural areas around the globe to maintain the sustainable production and food system, IFAD adopted a four-level response strategy, Dr. Houngbo said.
Firstly, it is working on repurposing the ongoing projects in 70 countries upon their requests to face the crisis. Secondly, it offered some countries to use IFAD’s unspent allocations for coronavirus-related issues.
Thirdly, the United Nations organization has launched the Rural Poor Stimulus Facility with $40 million as an additional fund for the small farmers. Fourthly, IFAD has received requests of debt deferment, clarified Dr. Houngbo, noting that the organization is working on debt deferment in cooperation with other concerned financial institutions.
The IFAD president said that one of the lessons learned out of the coronavirus is the role of digitality and IT, which is playing an alternative to being able to continue working.
He said that the role of digital agriculture is one of the big lessons that is moving forward and should be taken into account as there are some communities that have no access to the internet and they have to go out to be able to earn income on a daily basis.
“It is important for us to increase our work in making digital[technology] much more accessible on that,” he said, noting that the IFAD would launch a digital initiative for that and the organization is now in discussion with some telecommunication companies for the rural community services.
Dr. Hanougbo also highlighted the role of the government in scaling up digital literacy and to narrow the gap of the rural digitality on the national level, shedding light on the importance of investments in IT for rural communities.
“Covid-19 is a serious shock to the global community, so I don't look at it from a health perspective. I look at it as a shock to the communities that we need to develop resistance to it,” he said.
“The third lesson and it's going to be more important for IFAD is to be even more present closer to the field, closer to the people we are serving in pursuing our decentralization,” as this will help the organization to meet its clients’ needs.
Innovation is one of the very good lessons he continued, saying “I have to say that we need to innovate and turn to make sure how we can continue a minimum service amid the lockdown.”