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

Reema Nanavaty, Tang Lixia, Cecilia Mbaka, Kroum Markov
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Hosted by:
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
International Labour Organization
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About the webinar
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.

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 world’s 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, will provide 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.


This is the twenty-fourth webinar of the “Social protection responses to COVID-19” webinar series. The series is a joint effort initiated by the IPC-IGGIZ on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), and the Australia Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) collaboration with the socialprotection.org platform, and in cooperation with partners from different organisations.

DFID – UK Department for International Development
Focus Region:
Focus Topic:
Agricultural Value Chains / Agri-Businesses
Gender / Youth / Social Inclusion
About the speakers

Reema Nanavaty

Director of the Self Employed Women’s Association’s (SEWA), India

Reema Nanavaty leads Self Employed Women’s Association’s (SEWA) economic and rural development activities reaching out to 17 million women and their families across India. Since 1989 she has pioneered revival, restoration and innovation of rural livelihoods from district to global level. Reema is being recognized across India and in the neighbouring countries as a champion of making livelihoods of the poor women reach markets they deserve. May they be women artisans, salt pan workers, farmers, or labourer, she has made efforts over two decades to mainstream amazing diversity of skills and knowledge of India’s citizens into national mainstream. Her effort has created more dynamic local economy and fairer and equal society for thousands of SEWA sisters, citizens of India.

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Tang Lixia

Head of Department, Department of Development Studies, China Agricultural University

Lixia Tang is a professor at the China Agricultural University. She has conducted extensive work on the Chinese experience of alleviating poverty. Over the past decade, the focus of her research has been on China’s role in the agricultural sector of Sub-Saharan Africa, which has included fieldwork in many African countries including Zimbabwe and Uganda.

She received a Ph.D. from China Agricultural University in International Development Studies and a Ph.D. from Humboldt University in Agricultural Economics.

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Cecilia Mbaka

Head of the National Social Protection Secretariat, Kenya

Cecilia Mbaka is currently the Head of the National Social Protection Secretariat in the State Department of Social Protection whose mandate is to advice government on social protection issues and to coordinate social protection programmes with a view of enhancing synergy in delivery of Social Protection. She has also previously served in senior Government positions including as Head of the Division of Social Welfare and Older Persons within the same State Department and as pioneer director of the National Council for Persons with Disabilities

Ms Mbaka is a distinguished development worker and a strategic management professional with over 25 years’ experience working with the Government of Kenya. A central element of her work has been effective engagement of key sectors of Government, development partners, civil society and research stakeholders to advance policy development and the design and execution of innovative programs that have strengthened service delivery to the poor and vulnerable persons.

Besides her policy work, Ms Mbaka has steered the design and execution of Kenya’s cash transfer for older persons programme, which commenced in 2009 with an initital 300 beneficiaries and has since expanded exponentially to cover approximately 850, 000 older persons at present with the introduction of the universal cash transfer programme for older persons which she was very instrumental in its design and roll out in March, 2018. She successfully initiated activities to advocated for it. She has also been actively engaged in international meetings where she has presented papers on Social Protection. She is passionate about Universal Social Protection and social protection for workers in the informal sector.

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Kroum Markov

Social Protection Policy Specialist, International Labour Organization (ILO)

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