Africa: COVID-19 - Actors Idris and Sabrina Elba Launch New UN Fund for Rural Farmers

British actor Idris Elba (left) and his wife Sabrina Elba visited Sierra Leone with the UN's International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

A new global coronavirus relief fund launched on Monday by actor, filmmaker and humanitarian Idris Elba and actress, model and activist Sabrina Dhowre Elba on behalf of the UN's International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), aims to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on farmers and rural communities in developing countries.

The Rural Poor Stimulus Facility will help these producers to continue to grow their crops, keep their businesses open and maintain access to financial services and markets amid the pandemic.

IFAD President Gilbert F. Houngbo called for action to prevent the health crisis from transforming into a major food and hunger crisis.

"COVID-19 confirms what we know from Ebola, SARS and other crises: that our world is one world, and that the impact of disease, climate change, poverty, hunger and inequality cannot be contained within a country or region. The ripple effects touch us all – but have an especially devastating impact on those already poor and hungry," he said.

"We need to invest in them and keeping food systems running through this pandemic, so that the world's most vulnerable people can still feed their families and earn an income."

Lessons from Ebola

Around 80 per cent of the world's poorest people live in rural areas, according to IFAD.

Most rural farmers depend on small family farms to earn a living.

The Elbas, who were on Monday designated UN Goodwill Ambassadors for IFAD, visited agency-supported projects in Sierra Leone in December, where they met farmers and others who had received assistance during the West Africa Ebola epidemic in 2014-16.

At the time, IFAD-supported banks were the sole providers of banking and financial services in affected areas.

Speaking about their trip, Sabrina Dhowre Elba said the projects showed that with the right support, vulnerable rural people worldwide will be able to get through this difficult time.

"This crisis has shown us we are only as safe as our most vulnerable people. It is in all our interests to keep local food systems going, protect rural communities and mitigate a health crisis as people who lose their jobs in the city head back to rural areas," she said.

Idris Elba underscored that the impacts of the pandemic affect everyone, everywhere.

"The world's advanced economies are in the midst of this pandemic right now and, of course, they must do everything they can to help their own people. Every death is one death too many at a time like this. But the fact is, global action is also a matter of self-interest," he said.

"As long as the pandemic is still raging anywhere, it will pose a threat everywhere. IFAD needs more assistance to carry on the work that is desperately needed to keep food systems operating in rural areas if we are to come out of this crisis together and avoid needless hunger and suffering."

Gains under threat

IFAD provided $40 million in seed money for the Rural Poor Stimulus Facility, with the goal of raising an additional $200 million.

The Facility is part of the UN Secretary-General's call for urgent and coordinated actions across the UN system to support ending the pandemic and reducing its economic and social impacts.

IFAD said COVID-19 is threatening gains made over the years in reducing rural poverty.

With food prices already rising in some countries, the UN agency is working to secure food supply chains in several locations so that farmers can access seeds and other items. IFAD also is working with Governments to keep transport routes open, among other measures.

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