The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a significant loss of human life worldwide and presents an
unprecedented challenge to public health, food systems and businesses. The economic and social
disturbance caused by the pandemic is overwhelming: tens of millions of people are at risk of
falling into poverty, while the number of undernourished people, currently estimated at nearly
690 million, could rise by up to 132 million by the end of the year.
Millions of enterprises face an existential threat. Almost half of the world’s 3.3 billion global
workforce are at risk of losing their livelihoods. Informal economy workers are also vulnerable
because the majority lack social protection and access to quality health care. Without the means
to earn an income during lockdowns, many are unable to make money and feed themselves and
The pandemic has been affecting the entire food system. Border closures, trade restrictions and
confinement measures have been preventing farmers from accessing markets, including for
buying inputs and selling their produce, and agricultural workers from harvesting crops, thus
disrupting domestic and international food supply chains and decreasing access to healthy, safe
and diverse diets. The pandemic has decimated jobs and placed millions of livelihoods at risk. As
breadwinners lose jobs, fall ill and die, the food security and nutrition of millions of women and
men are under threat.
Millions of agricultural workers, waged and self-employed while feeding the world, regularly
confront high levels of working poverty, malnutrition and poor health, and suffer from a lack of
safety and labor protection. With low and irregular incomes and a lack of social support, many of
them are spurred to continue working, often in unsafe conditions, thus exposing themselves and
their families to additional risks. Further, when experiencing income losses, they may resort to
negative coping strategies, such as distress sale of assets, predatory loans or child labor. Migrant
agricultural workers are particularly vulnerable, because they face risks in their transport,
working and living conditions and struggle to access support measures put in place by
governments. Guaranteeing the safety and health of all agri-food workers – from primary
producers to those involved in food processing, transport and retail, including street food
vendors – as well as better incomes and protection, will be critical to saving lives and protecting
public health, people’s livelihoods and food security.
In the COVID-19 crisis food security, public health, and employment and labor issues, in particular
workers’ health and safety, converge. Adhering to workplace safety and health practices and
ensuring access to decent work and the protection of labor rights in all industries will be crucial
in addressing the human dimension of the crisis. Immediate and purposeful action to save lives
and livelihoods should include extending social protection towards universal health coverage and
income support for those most affected. These include workers in the informal economy and in
poorly protected and low-paid jobs, including youth, older workers, and migrants. Particular
attention must be paid to the situation of women, who are over-represented in low-paid jobs
and care roles. Different forms of support are key, including cash transfers, child allowances and
healthy school meals, shelter and food relief initiatives, support for employment retention and
recovery, and financial relief for businesses, including micro, small and medium-sized enterprises.
In designing and implementing such measures it is essential that governments work closely with
employers and workers.
Countries dealing with existing humanitarian crises or emergencies are particularly exposed to
the effects of COVID-19. Responding swiftly to the pandemic, while ensuring that humanitarian
and recovery assistance reaches those most in need, is critical.
Now is the time for global solidarity and support, especially with the most vulnerable in our
societies, particularly in the emerging and developing world. Only together can we overcome the
intertwined health and social and economic impacts of the pandemic and prevent its escalation
into a protracted humanitarian and food security catastrophe, with the potential loss of already
achieved development gains.
We must recognize this opportunity to build back better, as noted in the Policy Brief issued by
the United Nations Secretary-General. We are committed to pooling our expertise and
experience to support countries in their crisis response measures and efforts to achieve the
Sustainable Development Goals. We need to develop long-term sustainable strategies to address
the challenges facing the health and agri-food sectors. Priority should be given to addressing
underlying food security and malnutrition challenges, tackling rural poverty, in particular through
more and better jobs in the rural economy, extending social protection to all, facilitating safe
migration pathways and promoting the formalization of the informal economy.
We must rethink the future of our environment and tackle climate change and environmental
degradation with ambition and urgency. Only then can we protect the health, livelihoods, food
security and nutrition of all people, and ensure that our ‘new normal’ is a better one