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The Impact of COVID-19 on Rural Communities: key findings from a rapid assessment

In June 2020, ECLT set about to conduct a rapid assessment of the impact of COVID-19 on farmers, families, and children. The assessment also aimed to gain insight into the ongoing responses stakeholders (including Governments, International and local NGOs, the private sector etc) and identify the gaps and long-term priorities to build resilience in farming communities. The findings of the report will allow us to adapt our work to the reality faced by the communities on the ground. Here are some of the key results and recommendations:

1. School closures due to COVID-19 heightened the child labour risk in farming communities.

When children cannot access quality education, and their parents or caregivers are unable to support their learning at home because they have low literacy skills themselves, families often have no choice but to send their children to work. Survey respondents also noted that distance learning was almost impossible in agricultural communities which do not have telecommunications infrastructure. “During Covid-19, schools were closed; hence, children could only do activities at home and carry out distance learning (online). The obstacle that parents face is that they do not have a smartphone and adequate internet access. As such, their children cannot properly access school lessons.” Shared a stakeholder in Indonesia.

2. Covid-19 had adversely affected food security in many agricultural communities.

In Indonesia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Uganda, most respondents reported that COVID-19 had worsened farmers’ food security situation due to decreased incomes, increasing inflation, drought, and high informality of work. In Malawi, respondents reported that farmers were not adversely affected because of a good harvest, perhaps reflecting the less restrictive Covid-19 response in the country during the survey period.

3. There were some critical gaps COVID-19 prevention and response for farming communities

The three main gaps mentioned in programme countries are (i) the lack of Covid-19 PPE such as masks in rural health facilities and farming households; (ii) lack of relevant and easy-to-understand information on Covid-19 in farming communities; and (iii) neglect of common killer diseases such as malaria, which historically affect more people in rural communities. “Unfortunately, hospitals in Guatemala have collapsed. We need good hospitals, with the necessary equipment and personnel” shared a stakeholder from Guatemala.

4. Addressing child labour must begin with strengthening farmer livelihoods

Supporting smallholder income diversification, promoting savings and insurance, and improving rural infrastructure so that farmers have resources to protect children all play an important role in strengthening smallholder livelihoods in the face of a global pandemic and the more frequent, and increasingly severe, natural disasters. Realising this potential requires reimagining partnerships between governments, farmers’ organisations, farm workers and their organisations, and development partners to improve rural infrastructure and the functioning of markets in agricultural communities.