Food Coalition

Rural social protection and climate change after COVID-19

Climate change poses a major threat to achieving the goals of the 2030 Agenda, and particularly efforts to eliminate poverty (SDG 1) and reach zero hunger (SDG 2). Climate variability and weather extremes are among the key drivers of the recent rise in hunger, which prior to the COVID-19 pandemic affected 8.9 percent of the world’s population – approximately 690 million people. Indeed, climate change is accelerating the frequency and intensity of extreme natural hazards, leading to an increase in disasters, which have severe impacts on people’s lives and livelihoods. Furthermore, while some longer-term impacts of climate change may not be apparent for many decades, observed changes – such as increases in temperature – are already significant and relevant, especially for poor and vulnerable households whose livelihoods depend on agriculture.

Poverty, agriculture and climate change are closely intertwined in rural areas. Therefore better integrating poverty reduction, disaster preparedness and climate change adaptation policies and programmes is key. 80 percent of the world’s extreme poor live in rural areas and 64 percent work in agriculture. Indigenous peoples, who account for 476 million people in the world and represent more than 19 percent of the extreme poor, usually generate food and income as farmers, forest dwellers, pastoralists, hunter-gatherers and fisherfolks.

The rural poor are disproportionately affected by climate variability and hazards1 for multiple reasons. These include their heavy reliance on natural resource-based livelihoods, their greater likelihood of living in high-risk areas, as well as their limited capacity to manage risks due to low incomes, lack of savings, low asset bases, limited access to knowledge-sharing and capacity development opportunities and inadequate access to financial services. Consequently, the poor (and especially the most vulnerable among them: women, youth, indigenous people, etc.) experience relatively greater losses of income and assets following natural disasters, as well as higher mortality rates in disaster-affected areas, compared with the non-poor. Additionally, poor rural households often do not have the resources or information to manage risks, thus they tend to spread risks over a large array of lower-risk activities.

Climate variability increases uncertainty, and with it the tendency to adopt short-term, low-risk and potentially unsustainable livelihood strategies that can further perpetuate the cycle of intergenerational poverty, vulnerability and risk exposure as well as degrade the ecosystems which form the base for living. This hinders the adoption of techniques which ensure climate-resilient and sustainable practices in agriculture, forestry and fisheries.

The COVID-19 pandemic is making this even more complex. In rural areas, COVID-19 and related containment measures, have severe socioeconomic impacts on poor communities and local economies. These impacts include:

- Movement restrictions impact the income of households dependent on agri-food systems for their livelihoods (i.e. migrants including seasonal agricultural workers, and small-holders);

- Movement restrictions limit the direct sourcing of food from the territory. This is of particular importance to indigenous peoples relying on hunting, fishing and food gathering;

- Rural households coming under economic pressure might experience a reduction in their ability to pursue livelihood diversification as adaptation strategy to the impacts of climate change on agricultural production;

- Greater exposure to COVID-19 infections can be found in agri-business food chain jobs given the limited protection and enforcement of decent work including occupational health and safety norms;

- Limited access to water and sanitation in rural areas can contribute to the spread of the virus;

- Suspension of school feeding programmes due to school closures and disruptions in food supply chains impact access to food and healthy diets;

- Significant reductions in domestic and international remittances can exacerbate poverty and hunger among populations reliant on them, especially in rural areas;

- Additional considerations related to containment measures (school closures, increased care tasks, etc.) impact rural women disproportionately due to their role in the provision of unremunerated care, and inhibit their ability to participate in the labor market, and access opportunites.

These consequences threaten the livelihoods of the most vulnerable populations, often leading to the adoption of negative coping strategies, such as the overexploitation of natural resources, unsustainable agricultural practices, resorting to child labour and selling productive assets.

Putting in place new, and expanding existing, social protection measures, is critical to mitigate the indirect impacts of the pandemic and protect agricultural livelihoods during the response, while empowering and strengthening the capacities of rural households, individuals and economies for a greener recovery process. At the same time, it is key to support the design of social protection schemes that are climate-sensitive. On the one hand, the impacts of COVID-19 and of climate change overlap and disproportionately affect the poor, especially in rural areas. On the other hand, the COVID-19 pandemic, and efforts to reduce its impact and spread, have caused a slowdown of action against climate change because priorities are shifting, thereby making the implementation of planned adaptation and mitigation measures more difficult.

This programme is advocating for the urgent need to integrate climate action into COVID-19 response, especially through supporting access to social protection and economic inclusion, in order to plan for an inclusive and sustainable recovery while strengthening the resilience of rural households through more effective and responsive social protection systems.

Priority Areas of work: Economic Inclusion and Social Protection to Reduce Poverty
SDG: 1. No Poverty, 2. Zero Hunger, 5. Gender Equality, 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth, 10. Reduced Inequality, 13. Climate Action, 14. Life Below Water, 15. Life on Land
Level: Global
Country: Afghanistan, Armenia, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Chad, Colombia, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Ethiopia, Honduras, Iraq, Jamaica, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Malawi, Mali, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Niger, Pakistan, Philippines, Republic of Moldova, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Tajikistan, Timor-Leste, Tunisia, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Zambia
Budget: USD 30 million

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