The COVID-19 pandemic has recently taken a devastating turn for the worse in countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, as highly infectious new variants surge through populations, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). 

In this dire context, United Nations agencies are working to strengthen public health and combat the pandemic’s indirect consequences, such as rising hunger and poverty. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), in particular, is adapting its programs and mobilizing resources to support livelihoods in rural and poor communities.

“We held rapid remote consultations with the governments we work with that enabled us to identify ways in which IFAD could contribute to [country] efforts to deal with the crisis,” said Rossana Polastri, IFAD’s director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “Our country teams, working hand-in-hand with national, regional, and local authorities, came up with a whole range of innovative approaches and solutions — most of the time, by adjusting or reorienting ongoing projects — that helped rural people to navigate through a very difficult period.”

In Mexico, which has faced its worst economic slump in nearly a century due to the pandemic, IFAD is continuing to support programs that have allowed rural communities to diversify their incomes while protecting local environments. These programs have trained women and young people in sustainable forest management, water system protection, and economic development.

Over the years, IFAD-supported projects have invested around $530 million in Mexico, with more than $252 million directly financed by IFAD, helping farmers earn more income, adapt to climate change, and engage in rural business  opportunities. The positive impact of these programs has inspired the Mexican government to commit funds to IFAD on an annual basis. Now, as IFAD seeks to fulfil its fundraising goal for its next multi-year slate of programs, Mexico has a chance to join other countries in increasing its commitment. Doing so would help some of the communities most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and aid in the country’s recovery effort. 

Overall, only 1 in 10 people have been vaccinated against COVID-19 in Latin America and the Caribbean due to ongoing vaccine hoarding by high-income countries. Mexico has managed to vaccinate a higher percentage of its citizens than other countries in the region, but not by much.

IFAD’s programs are helping communities in nearby countries that have been hard hit by COVID-19 as well.

In Guatemala, IFAD joined other UN agencies to keep school feeding programs open amid country-wide lockdowns. In addition to preventing students and their families from going hungry, the initiative also provided local farmers with a steady opportunity to sell their crops at a time when markets were not reliably operating.   

A similar path was taken in El Salvador, where the IFAD-funded Rural Adelante Project worked with smallholder farmers to ensure families in rural areas were receiving fruits, vegetables, and dairy products.

Farmers were also harmed by market shutdowns in Colombia, but IFAD’s team helped to create a virtual marketplace that connected farmers with community organizations that were able to keep families fed and livelihoods intact. 

Worldwide, the pandemic has exposed the ways in which economies and food systems fail to take care of the most vulnerable communities. Everything from how food is grown and produced to how it’s processed and delivered needs to be reimagined in the years ahead to prevent hunger from rising. 

IFAD is helping to lead this transformation by focusing on smallholder farmers. 

“Of course, the needs of small farmers, who produce most of the food that give us the capacity and strength to carry on with our daily life, have to be at the core of any reform of our food systems, if we want that reform to be a success story,” Polastri said. 


Defeat Poverty

How IFAD Is Fighting Hunger and Supporting Farmers in Latin America and the Caribbean During COVID-19

By Joe McCarthy