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Reaching rural areas in the social protection response to COVID-19: opportunities and challenges

©Luiz Guimaraes
28/07/2020 28/07/2020

COVID-19 affects rural lives and livelihoods in a specific way. Rural areas already concentrated 80 percent of the world’s extreme poor, before the pandemic hit. COVID-19 containment measures are particularly difficult for the rural poorest and most vulnerable, who tend to hold jobs and occupations that cannot be performed remotely. This is particularly true for farmers, herders, fisherfolk, and foresters. Informality is widespread in rural areas, in particular for women, and closely intertwined with poverty. Many of the worlds poor depend on public spaces and movement for their livelihoods, including seasonal agricultural work and traveling to markets to sell or buy products and/or inputs, etc. When restrictions are implemented that require reduced mobility, many will abruptly lose their source of livelihood. The vast majority of the rural poor are not covered by health insurance or income protection, such as paid sick leave or unemployment benefits, and they will likely face food and nutrition insecurity.

Social protection schemes can play a decisive role in protecting lives and livelihoods by securing incomes, ensuring access to safe, sufficient and nutritious food, providing support with childcare, insuring against sickness or death risks and facilitating access to health care. If implemented in conjunction with productive and economic interventions, social protection can support farmers, herders, fisherfolk, and foresters to continue producing during or after the crisis to ensure food security for themselves and others. Large segments of the rural population are not covered by existing social protection schemes. Remoteness, low density of population, high mobility, and pervasive employment informality all hinder access to social protection, acting as a barrier for both the demand and supply of social protection. Applying or participating in a social protection scheme can often represent a hidden cost that poor rural people cannot bear.

The dramatic increase in the number of countries that have adopted social protection responses to the pandemic is an opportunity to recognize the potential of social protection and enshrine these measures into systemic approaches going beyond mere ad hoc crisis responses. However, the COVID-19 pandemic may also have exacerbated some of the pre-existing barriers that limited the inclusion of rural populations. Reaching rural populations with critical support has required, and will require still, innovative and adapted approaches to respond to rural populations' needs. This webinar, co-organized by FAO and ILO, provided a platform for countries to discuss how social protection can be best leveraged as a tool to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 for rural communities, as well as challenges and opportunities for building back better in terms of longer-term social protection responses, enhancing coordination between social protection and agriculture.


  • Reema Nanavaty, Director of the Self Employed Women's Association's (SEWA), India 
  • Lixia Tang, Deputy Dean, College of International Development and Global Agriculture, China Agricultural University 
  • Cecilia Mbaka, Head of the National Social Protection Secretariat, Kenya
  • Mounir Cherif, Social Protection Expert, Tunisia


  • Kroum Markov, Social Protection Policy Specialist, ILO


  • Ana Ocampo, Social Protection Officer, FAO

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