FAO virtual side-event on “Transforming agri-food systems and fostering inclusive rural development in the context of COVID-19 to end rural poverty” At the Special Session of the General Assembly in response to the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Pandemic

Distinguished participants,
Ladies and gentlemen,

DESA is very honoured to be a partner of this important event. I would like to thank FAO for its initiative.

Eradicating poverty is the most important SDG of the 2030 Agenda. Unfortunately, for the first time in a generation, extreme poverty is increasing as a result of the interplay of major challenges. These include ongoing conflicts, climate change, and the COVID-19 pandemic, which has induced a global economic recession. 

Among the global poor, the people living in rural areas suffer the most. The facts speak for themselves: 

  • About 80 per cent of the extreme poor live in rural areas; 
  • Over 46 per cent of the global rural population is poor;
  • About 4.5 billion people depend on food systems for their livelihoods;
  • and 
  • The incidence of rural poverty is more than four times higher than the incidence of urban poverty.

At this time of the year of 2020, while we embrace the successful story of China in its nationwide achievement of eradication of poverty, we have to admit that the COVID-19 pandemic poses a serious challenge to global efforts of eradicating poverty. Approximately, 689 million people lived in extreme poverty as of 2017. The pandemic could push an additional 88 million to 115 million people back into extreme poverty this year. This number might reach to 150 million by 2021. 

When the COVID-19 crisis began, the world’s attention was focused on urban areas, where the initial spread was concentrated. As a result, rural areas were largely forgotten, even though it is where people are more likely to live in extreme poverty. Now, however, rural areas are also experiencing higher rates of infections. This is likely to disrupt agri-food systems and shatter employment and incomes, further exacerbating inequalities.

Rural businesses – particularly micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises located along the agri-food value chain – have also not been spared. 

At the same time, lockdown measures have impacted:

  • agricultural activities, 
  • access to markets and rural extension services, 
  • and off-farm activities that most farmers depend on for their livelihoods.

Indeed, we should not forget about the impact of COVID-19 on rural communities and on food security. The virus continues to spread unchecked in rural communities in both developed and developing countries. 


The report of the UN Secretary-General on eradicating rural poverty to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development highlighted the urgency to address rural poverty. The achievement of Sustainable Development Goals 1 and 2 depends on winning the battle against rural poverty. Stimulus measures adopted by governments, have not adequately addressed the vulnerabilities and needs of households and MSMEs – in rural and remote communities. 

What should we do in addressing such challenges?

It is crucial that measures to tackle the current public health crisis should prioritize relief to rural communities. This should include support to agriculture and MSMEs that are a major source of rural jobs. Inclusive rural development and agriculture should be brought to the forefront during policy discussions – particularly those involving stimulus relief efforts. 

Tackling health inequalities between rural-urban areas should remain central to public policy interventions – including actions aimed at combating this pandemic.

It is time to increase investment, renew efforts, and to expand social protection systems, including floors in rural areas. These efforts should include the:

  • removal of barriers to access, 
  • extending legislation to rural populations, and 
  • supporting poor rural participants in agri-food value chains.

Efforts are also required – from all stakeholders – to support the livelihoods and resilience of rural women and girls. In order for them to respond to challenges and seize opportunities, structural barriers and discriminatory laws must be eliminated.

We also need increased investments in agriculture, to ensure:

  • food security; 
  • basic social services such as access to education and universal health care, and 
  • accessible infrastructure to address the digital divide.

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. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Accelerating transformations in food systems is vital to help deliver on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the Paris Agreement on climate change. 

The Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR) prepared by an independent group of scientists identified food systems and nutrition patterns, as one of six key entry points for transformative action to achieve the SDGs. The GSDR recognized that food systems need attention along the entire food value chain, to:

  • increase access to nutrition, 
  • reduce poverty, 
  • empower women, and 
  • minimize environmental impact including GHG emissions.

The Technology Facilitation Mechanism (TFM), supported by DESA, is in place to support such efforts. It can help to share knowledge about effective technologies in the agri-food sector. 

Wholistic approaches to food systems have become increasingly important. Land degradation is a major factor in raising the incidence of disease – including zoonotic diseases like COVID-19 – which now threatens food security for millions.


UN DESA stands ready to support sustainable food systems and transformations that move us closer to the eradication of poverty and hunger. We shall continue our efforts in supporting progress across the SDGs, including as a member of the UN Task Force for preparing the Secretary General’s 2021 Food systems Summit.

We are looking forward to building up partnership with all UN agencies for this endevour. 

Thank you for your kind attention.

File date: 
Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Mr. Liu