Director-General  QU Dongyu

Social protection is key to COVID-19 recovery, FAO says


Rome/New York – Social protection schemes have played a key role in helping the world’s poor recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and should be expanded, the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), QU Dongyu, told the 60th Session of the United Nations Commission for Social Development in New York.

Even before the pandemic broke out, the world was not on track to meet its commitment to end hunger and malnutrition by 2030. Since the first reported case of COVID-19 two years ago, progress in reducing poverty has slid back, while hunger has increased quickly across all regions. There are currently around 3 billion people who cannot afford a healthy diet, and FAO estimates that an additional 1 billion people would join their ranks if a shock were to reduce their incomes by one-third.

Experience from more than 200 countries has shown that countries with strong social protection systems were better able to respond to the burgeoning demands for immediate assistance.

Examples of social protection schemes that have worked include cash transfers, school and child feeding programmes, the sale of basic food baskets at discounted prices, as well as tax and debt relief for vulnerable businesses and households.

“We must recognize, share, scale up and build on these successful measures,” Qu said.

The Director-General also called for measures specifically targeting agrifood systems, which are central to the livelihoods of 4.5 billion people, and for people living in rural areas in particular, where more than 80 percent of the world’s extreme poor people live.

These include the creation of off-farm jobs, the promotion of entrepreneurship and economic diversification, as well as investments in human capital, social protection systems and rural infrastructure to increase the productivity of small-scale producers.

“Rebuilding from the pandemic will require increased and targeted investments in rural development. For this, it is critical that our agrifood systems should be transformed to be more efficient, more inclusive, more resilient, and more sustainable,” Qu said.

Convening annually in New York, the Commission for Social Development is the key United Nations body in charge of the follow up and implementation of the Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development and Programme of Action, which was agreed in 1995 to establish a new consensus to place people at the centre of sustainable development.

The main theme of this year’s meeting is “Inclusive and resilient recovery from COVID-19 for sustainable livelihoods, well-being and dignity for all: eradicating poverty and hunger in all its forms and dimensions to achieve the 2030 Agenda.”