Impact of COVID-19 on people’s livelihoods, their health & our food systems
Joint statement by ILO, FAO, IFAD & WHO
14 October 2020, Rome/Geneva – The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a dramatic loss of human life worldwide & presents an unprecedented challenge to public health, food systems & the world of work. The economic & social disruption caused by the pandemic is devastating: tens of millions of people are at risk of falling into extreme poverty, while the number of undernourished people, currently estimated at nearly 690 million, could increase by up to 132 million by the end of the year.
Millions of enterprises face an existential threat. Nearly half of the world’s 3.3 billion global workforce are at risk of losing their livelihoods. Informal economy workers are particularly vulnerable because the majority lack social protection & access to quality health care & have lost access to productive assets. Without the means to earn an income during lockdowns, many are unable to feed themselves & their families. For most, no income means no food, or, at best, less food & less nutritious food.
The pandemic has been affecting the entire food system & has laid bare its fragility. Border closures, trade restrictions & confinement measures have been preventing farmers from accessing markets, including for buying inputs & selling their produce, & agricultural workers from harvesting crops, thus disrupting domestic & international food supply chains & reducing access to healthy, safe & diverse diets. The pandemic has decimated jobs & placed millions of livelihoods at risk. As breadwinners lose jobs, fall ill & die, the food security & nutrition of millions of women & men are under threat, with those in low-income countries, particularly the most marginalized populations, which include small-scale farmers & indigenous peoples, being hardest hit.
Millions of agricultural workers – waged & self-employed – while feeding the world, regularly face high levels of working poverty, malnutrition & poor health, & suffer from a lack of safety & labour protection as well as other types of abuse. With low & irregular incomes & a lack of social support, many of them are spurred to continue working, often in unsafe conditions, thus exposing themselves & their families to additional risks. Further, when experiencing income losses, they may resort to negative coping strategies, such as distress sale of assets, predatory loans or child labour. Migrant agricultural workers are particularly vulnerable, because they face risks in their transport, working & living conditions & struggle to access support measures put in place by governments. Guaranteeing the safety & health of all agri-food workers – from primary producers to those involved in food processing, transport & retail, including street food vendors – as well as better incomes & protection, will be critical to saving lives & protecting public health, people’s livelihoods & food security.
In the COVID-19 crisis food security, public health, & employment & labour issues, in particular workers’ health & safety, converge. Adhering to workplace safety & health practices & ensuring access to decent work & the protection of labour rights in all industries will be crucial in addressing the human dimension of the crisis. Immediate & purposeful action to save lives & livelihoods should include extending social protection towards universal health coverage & income support for those most affected. These include workers in the informal economy & in poorly protected & low-paid jobs, including youth, older workers, & migrants. Particular attention must be paid to the situation of women, who are over-represented in low-paid jobs & care roles. Different forms of support are key, including cash transfers, child allowances & healthy school meals, shelter & food relief initiatives, support for employment retention & recovery, & financial relief for businesses, including micro, small & medium-sized enterprises. In designing & implementing such measures it is essential that governments work closely with employers & workers.
Countries dealing with existing humanitarian crises or emergencies are particularly exposed to the effects of COVID-19. Responding swiftly to the pandemic, while ensuring that humanitarian & recovery assistance reaches those most in need, is critical.
Now is the time for global solidarity & support, especially with the most vulnerable in our societies, particularly in the emerging & developing world. Only together can we overcome the intertwined health & social & economic impacts of the pandemic & prevent its escalation into a protracted humanitarian & food security catastrophe, with the potential loss of already achieved development gains.
We must recognize this opportunity to build back better, as noted in the Policy Brief issued by the United Nations Secretary-General. We are committed to pooling our expertise & experience to support countries in their crisis response measures & efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. We need to develop long-term sustainable strategies to address the challenges facing the health & agri-food sectors. Priority should be given to addressing underlying food security & malnutrition challenges, tackling rural poverty, in particular through more & better jobs in the rural economy, extending social protection to all, facilitating safe migration pathways & promoting the formalization of the informal economy.
We must rethink the future of our environment & tackle climate change & environmental degradation with ambition & urgency. Only then can we protect the health, livelihoods, food security & nutrition of all people, & ensure that our ‘new normal’ is a better one.