FAO Liaison Office in New York

FAO and partners advocate for inclusive food systems to combat rural poverty


The implications of agri-food systems transformation for the livelihoods of rural people in the COVID-19 era was the focus of a high-level event co-organized by FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), World Food Programme (WFP), and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), in collaboration with the Permanent Mission of China and the Delegation of the European Union to the United Nations (UN).

The event "Transforming agri-food systems and fostering inclusive rural development in the context of COVID-19 to end rural poverty" was held virtually, on the side-lines of the UN General Assembly's Special Session in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking in the opening segment, the Permanent Representative of China to the UN, Ambassador Zhang Jun, and the Head of the EU Delegation to the UN, Ambassador Olof Skoog, helped set the stage for the discussions in the opening segment.

Ambassador Zhang stated that "Accelerating rural poverty reduction and transforming food systems should be prioritized for post COVID-19 recovery and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda." He added that in the past years more than 100 million Chinese were lifted out of poverty and that the country was on track to eradicate rural poverty in 2020.

Ambassador Skoog stressed the urgency to act. "In the time of COVID-19, one thing became crystal clear: addressing food security and ensuring proper nutrition for all is urgent," he said, also underscoring the strong interlinkages between healthy people, healthy societies and a healthy planet, all recognized in the EU's Farm to Fork Strategy.

The President of the General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir, delivered a video message in which he underlined the need to move from an agricultural perspective to an agri-food perspective. “In recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, we must focus on strengthening local and inclusive food systems to ensure sustained, resilient food security and poverty reduction,” he said.

The President of the UN Economic and Social Council, Munir Akram, stressed the need to address the systemic causes of poverty and hunger. “At the international level, the structures of finance, production and trade must be made more fair and equitable, developing countries must be helped to recover from the COVID crisis, to realize the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to ward of the impacts of climate change.”

Stakeholders weigh in opportunities to end rural poverty

Representing the UN Global Indigenous Youth Caucus, the Vice-Chair of the Food Systems Summit Action Track 4, Mai Thin Yu Mon, focused her remarks on ways of using inclusivity to combat poverty. “Even though the role of youth is acknowledged in the international arena, this is much different in rural areas. If we really want to engage youth at rural level, it’s time for us to change the narrative around traditional farming,” she noted.

The World Rural Forum Director and Vice-Chair of the UN Decade of Family Farming International Steering Committee, Laura Lorenzo, focused on the role of family farming in ending rural poverty, asking the international community to “unleash the unique potential of family farming towards tackling the actual and future crisis, addressing persistent social and economic inequalities in rural areas, assuring inclusive and resilience local food systems, and guaranteeing sustainable livelihoods.”

The Chair of CGIAR’s Standing Panel on Impact Assessment, Paris School of Economics Professor, Karen Macours, pointed out that innovation could be an effective tool in rendering agri-food systems more equitable, provided there is rigorous piloting and testing to ensure the effectiveness of diversified, scaled up actions. “Different innovations reach different types of farming households and regions, so it is important to look beyond individuals,” she explained.

The Vice President of the University of Montpellier, and member of the Scientific Group of the Food Systems Summit, Patrick Caron, said that agroecological approaches may have a major impact to realize the Agenda 2030 through food system transformation. “Science has an essential role to play in helping with the designing of the pathways to be pursued,” added Caron.

The UN voices make the cases for investing in agri-food systems to address rural poverty

A panel of UN leaders highlighted the key role of agriculture in the transformation of the economy, ensuring food security and nutrition and in ending extreme poverty.

"Evidence shows that in low-income countries, investing in agriculture - especially in family farming and small-scale agriculture - has a greater impact on reducing poverty than investing in other sectors," noted FAO Director-General, QU Dongyu, who went on to stress that pro-poor growth also required creating off-farm jobs, fostering economic diversification, and investing in human capital, health, education and infrastructure.

Extreme poverty in rural areas is three times higher than in urban areas. About 80 percent of the world's extremely poor reside in rural areas and must have to cope with limited access to often degraded resources. The COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated this situation, exacerbating inequalities and negatively impacting the lives and well-being of the rural poor –in particular of women, indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities and youth.

UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Liu Zhenmin, stressed the importance of joint efforts. "A coordinated international response and recovery effort is very much needed to fight the pandemic, lift rural populations out of poverty, and ensure no one is left behind," he stated.

The President of IFAD, Gilbert F. Houngbo, emphasized that "Today's pandemic increases the urgency to make our food systems not only more sustainable but also more resilient, as well as inclusive and fair. I cannot insist enough on the importance of focusing our attention on the small-scale producers if we really want to boot out poverty, and achieve SDG1 and SDG2 by 2030.”

The Director of WFP's Humanitarian and Development Programme, David Kaatrud, elaborated on the agency's resilience-building activities in rural communities. "Studies have shown that resilience programmes are a cost-efficient investment for reducing need and preventing crises. For instance, a recent WFP analysis found that each US$1 spent on an integrated package of resilience activities in Niger would generate a return of US$3.67 over a 20-year period," he said.

Using and creating opportunities to end rural poverty

The UN Food Systems Summit 2021 and multilateral efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic offer unique opportunities to identify and promote actions in favour of the rural poor. FAO's Hand-in-Hand Initiative and COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme represent two complimentary, multi-sectoral, and partnership-focused approaches that stand to reduce poverty through investing in knowledge-sharing and innovation.

As the FAO Director-General remarked, "We have nine harvests remaining until 2030 and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, and we must galvanize more partners around this urgency to work together on understanding the needs of different agri-food systems around the world, and jointly address how to accelerate solutions."

The event was moderated by FAO Chief Economist, Máximo Torero.