Multi-stakeholder Forum Elevates Voices of ‘Invisible Ones’ Facing Pandemic’s Worst Effects without Protection, as Social Development Commission Continues
Family Farmers Produce 80 Per Cent of World’s Food, Panellist Says, as Delegates Call for Stronger Partnerships, Cooperation
The Commission for Social Development held a multi-stakeholder forum today, with panellists who — as leaders of a trade union, farmers association, cooperative alliance, cultural movement and efforts to end violence against women — offered fresh ideas for fixing the broken protection systems that have left the most vulnerable most exposed to deepened hunger and poverty generated by the pandemic.
In opening remarks, Commission Chair María del Carmen Squeff (Argentina) noted that many of the day’s speakers are “close to the most vulnerable, the ‘invisible ones’” – whose insights therefore are of vital importance. The pandemic has revealed “how social protection has gone astray”, and she called for greater cooperation so that the “new normal” does not reproduce the flaws of what came before it.
Against that backdrop, Hanna Sarkkinen, Minister for Social Affairs and Health of Finland, underscored the need for multi-stakeholder collaboration in her keynote address, calling for renewed will and resources to be devoted to tackling malnutrition in all forms. As well, the drivers behind hunger, such as poverty, conflict, climate change and biodiversity loss, must be addressed. Emphasizing the importance of systematic gender mainstreaming across all policies related to the 2030 Agenda, she said: “Tackling poverty and hunger and achieving food security are not possible without social justice and gender equality.”
Echoing these points, panellist Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, pointed out that, since the start of the pandemic, women are the majority of those who left the workforce, leading to an attendant loss of income that has reached $800 billion. Further, informality stands at 60 per cent of the global labour force, while gender-based violence is on the rise. She called for a new social contract that enables a human-centred recovery, and for steps to be taken to achieve Goal 8, starting with the creation of 575 million new jobs by 2030.
Panellist Ariel Guarco, President of the International Cooperative Alliance, noting that his collective represents all regions and all sectors of the economy, described the ways in which cooperatives have mitigated suffering in the time of crisis, pointing to their involvement in health care, agro-industrial production, telecommunications and housing. For example, he said, cooperatives protect the production of food by small farmers, reduce the inflation risk to food prices, while initiatives such as food banks and training extend support to vulnerable groups and market actors. However, the Alliance’s ability to contain the crisis underlines the need for a more democratic food system in which participants are empowered to bring about the changes required to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
Joining Ms. Burrow and Mr. Guarco as panellists were other social entrepreneurs and organizers with expertise in the realm of sustainable farming, who described ways to empower small farmers, women and other marginalized groups, reducing entrenched inequalities, and working towards protecting the most vulnerable and working towards eradicating hunger and poverty.
In the afternoon, the Commission continued its general discussion, with speakers from around the world outlining steps taken towards a more resilient, inclusive, and equitable post-pandemic recovery, and identifying persistent challenges to be addressed. The representative of Guinea noted that her Government has worked hard to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the most vulnerable, through boosting the country’s poverty fund and implementing targeted projects for post-pandemic recovery. Meanwhile, Venezuela’s representative called for enhanced cooperation to eradicate hunger and poverty through fair trade and a more socially conscious private sector. Steps must be taken to foster a food system that has a gender focus, protects ethnic diversity and promotes harmony with nature, he said, adding: “Food must be viewed as a right, not as merchandise.”
The Commission for Social Development will reconvene at 3 p.m., on Friday, 11 February, to continue its sixtieth session.
The Commission’s morning meeting featured a Multi-stakeholder Forum on the priority theme “Inclusive and resilient recovery from COVID-19 for sustainable livelihoods, well-being and dignity for all: eradicating poverty and hunger in all its forms and dimensions to achieve the 2030 Agenda”.
Moderated by Rose Ngugi, Executive Director of the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis, it featured presentations by Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation; Esther Penunia, Secretary‑General of the Asian Farmers’ Association for Sustainable Rural Development; Ariel Guarco, President of the International Cooperative Alliance; Elsa Marie D’Silva, President of Red Dot Foundation Global; and Juan Carr, Social Entrepreneur and Founder of the social organization Red Solidaria. Hanna Sarkkinen, Minister for Social Affairs and Health of Finland, was the keynote speaker.
MARÍA DEL CARMEN SQUEFF (Argentina), Commission Chair, delivered opening remarks, noted that interventions made so far have underscored the ways in which inequalities can be reduced, and how Government policies can be enhanced in the socioeconomic and environmental spheres. “The pandemic speaks all languages, and has revealed how acute inequality is and how social protection has gone astray,” she said, recalling remarks a day earlier by Mario Cimoli, Deputy Executive Secretary, United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), who said the pandemic has exacerbated structural problems in a developmental model in need of review, as exemplified by issues around COVID-19 vaccine access. While Governments must enact inclusive policies, the work cannot be done without the participation of other actors, including the private sector and civil society.
Noting that this morning’s speakers are “close to the most vulnerable, the ‘invisible ones’”, and what they recount is therefore of vital importance, she underlined the need for greater cooperation at this historic juncture so that the new normalcy does not reproduce the flaws of what came before it.
Ms. SARKKINEN underscored that multi-stakeholder collaboration is at the core of the Sustainable Development Goals. Calling for the will and resources to tackle malnutrition in all its forms, she said the drivers behind hunger — poverty, conflicts, climate change and biodiversity loss — must also be addressed. Against that backdrop, she highlighted two initiatives by her country — the Round Table on Food, and the National Nutrition Council of Finland.
Underlining the importance of healthy and free school meals, she noted that Finland has scaled up support to help countries raise their school meal coverage back to pre-pandemic levels and expand such programmes. “School meals are the most widespread social safety net in the world,” she said, adding that Finland and France are working closely with other Member States, the World Food Programme (WFP) and other partners to build a Global School Meals Coalition to ensure that every child receives a nutritious and healthy school meal by 2030. She also emphasized the importance of strengthening social protection, access to services and universal education, as well as supporting employment, decent work and fair working conditions.
Noting that Finland pursues a human‑rights-based development policy and applies systematic gender mainstreaming across all policies related to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, she highlighted the Generation Equality Forum and campaign, which aims to accelerate fulfilment of the rights of women and girls, including through the promotion of work-life balance and strengthened sexual and reproductive services and rights. “Tackling poverty and hunger and achieving food security are not possible without social justice and gender equality,” she said.
Ms. BURROW said the pandemic has had a staggering human cost, disrupted efforts to realize the Sustainable Development Goals and led to a massive loss of jobs and income. However, she noted that the adverse impact of the crisis owed itself to pre‑existing crises, including historic inequalities and the climate emergency. For women, who are the majority of those who left the workforce, she pointed out that the attendant loss of income has reached $800 billion. Further, informality stands at 60 per cent of the global labour force and is growing in every country, while gender‑based violence has increased. She underlined the need for a new social contract that enables a human-centred recovery, and emphasized in this regard the importance of Goal 8 on decent work and economic growth, which is integral to the pursuit of inclusive growth, social protections and environmental preservation.
Welcoming the inclusion of the Global Social Protection Fund in the recommendations of the Secretary-General’s report, she went on to note that, to achieve Goal 8, 575 million new jobs must be created by 2030, including through investment in climate‑friendly jobs with just transition plans, as well as jobs in sustainable agriculture, which will strengthen agri-food. She underscored the need for multilateral cooperation to push back austerity, for strengthened international tax cooperation and progressive tax reforms, and for the fulfilling of official development assistance (ODA) commitments. Moreover, workers must be paid just wages through minimum living wages and collective bargaining, she said, adding that the gender pay gap must be eliminated.
Ms. PENUNIA said her organization is an alliance of national family farmer organizations, with 22 member organizations in 16 countries, with 13 million individual members engaged in crops, livestock, forestry, fishery and aquaculture, herding and pastoralism. Family farmers account for 90 per cent of all farms and produce 80 per cent of the world’s food, and perform multidimensional roles in society, including as custodians of biodiversity, she said, noting, however, that the industrialized food system deeply disempowers farmers. They lack rights over their natural resources, and do not have access or control over technology, finance, infrastructure or market resources. Such a system leads to poverty, hunger and malnutrition.
She went on to outline initiatives that foster sustainable food systems, including a cooperative in the Philippines headed by women leaders from the Dumagat indigenous community, which partnered with a homeowner’s association to hold a weekend farmers’ market, as well as the Missing Middle Initiative, piloted by the Global Agricultural Food Security Program to directly finance qualified producer organizations. She also made several recommendations, starting with support for the implementation of the United Nations Decade of Family Farming, a mainstreamed shift to agro-ecological approaches and the provision of direct financing to farmers organizations.
Mr. GUARCO said the Alliance he is a part of has 126 years of history, and represents all regions and sectors of the economy. It is the first non‑governmental body with consultative status conferred by the United Nations. Extreme poverty and hunger afflict millions, and has worsened the impact of the health crisis, which already represents “the saddest time in our history”. Noting that, this year, growth is expected to be less than in 2021, while another 64 million people are expected to be pushed into extreme poverty, compared to 2019, he said that these trends make the prospect of a fair recovery even more distant. Against this backdrop, civil society organizations must consider proposals to bring people together and reverse such trends. Cooperatives have made major efforts to provide basic goods and services to societies in this time of crisis, he said, pointing to their involvement in health care, agro-industrial production, telecommunications and housing.
For example, he said, food cooperatives protect the production of food by small farmers, and at the same time — as they are grass-roots level — they have shortened the distance between producers and consumers, reducing the inflation risk to food prices. Through initiatives such as food banks and training, they have provided support to vulnerable groups and market actors, he said, adding that the Alliance’s ability to contain the crisis underlines the need for a more democratic food system in which participants are able to bring about the changes required to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Spotlighting a memorandum of understanding between the Alliance and FAO in 2018 to work towards achieving the 2030 Agenda, he said his group is in a position to solve the problem, and promote an inclusive and resilient recovery. While International Labour Organization (ILO) Recommendation No. 193 pertains to the promotion of cooperatives, he pointed out that cooperatives are nonetheless hampered in achieving the Goals.
Ms. D’SILVA said the Red Dot Foundation is a group based in India working on issues of gender equality and justice. Stressing that the last two years have been extremely difficult ones, with COVID-19 exacerbating inequality and revealing glaring gaps in the global system, she said women and girls have been hardest hit by increased violence, child marriage, human trafficking, a lack of access to health products, job losses and a lack of education. More than 1 in 10 — or an estimated 32 million women — limited their food intake or ran out of food in a single week surveyed during the height of the pandemic, compounding pre-existing challenges in nutritional outcomes. There were 2.4 million unintended pregnancies in the first six months of the pandemic due to lack of access to contraceptives. Meanwhile, the number of women in the workforce dropped from 26 per cent before COVID-19 to just 16.1 per cent today, as women took on more unpaid care responsibilities.
Outlining projects undertaken by her organization to address those challenges, she said it worked with a coalition of non-profits and individuals to distribute cooked food in Mumbai; fielded medical distress calls; connected citizens with health‑care resources; and worked through local networks to bring jobs back to women at the hyper‑local level. She called for additional efforts to address the digital divide, invest in coalitions that can quickly reach large numbers of people, invest in and encourage women’s entrepreneurship, set aside a share of gross domestic product (GDP) to account for women’s unpaid care work, and prevent and end gender‑based violence.
Mr. CARR, noting that the Red Solidaria network is a cultural movement made up of citizens, expressed appreciation for today’s meeting and welcomed the interest in reaching the most excluded groups. The idea is for the most marginalized to be considered in a post-pandemic world. All partners within the United Nations framework should agree to focus due attention on those most often left behind. The global network currently looking at science, health and knowledge in the context of the pandemic should be maintained through, among other things, measures that will ensure the eradication of poverty and hunger — goals the world can fully attain. He wondered how best to consider the needs of all the marginalized, encouraging States to cooperate in building a solid global network that can reach all vulnerable groups.
In the ensuing interactive discussion, representatives from Governments and civil society engaged in a question-and-answer session with the panellists.
The representative of Argentina asked the panellists to share examples of successful joint projects undertaken with Member States to end hunger and poverty. She also asked about how “international solidarity” can be re-interpreted in the new large global scenario drawn by the pandemic.
The representative of Portugal sought examples of how social policies based on multi-stakeholder cooperation helped address poverty and hunger.
The representative of China asked for examples of long-term poverty‑alleviation projects that benefit the underrepresented populations in rural areas and how civil society can play a role in poverty reduction.
A civil society representative of Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd sought ideas for ensuring that big multilateral corporations in the mining industry implement an ethical, rights-based business approach when working with local communities.
Ms. BURROW, responding, said international solidarity is seen in the various alliances emerging in such fields as textiles, care and debt relief. To reduce hunger and poverty, a national strategy for a universal social‑protection floor is imperative, as is a global social protection fund. Turning the ethical behaviour of businesses, she said many business leaders who offer good examples can be found in the United Nations Global Compact.
Ms. PENUNIA said that, in the Philippines, one example of successful poverty and hunger reduction is the law on agrarian reform, which allows farmers to claim land and increase their household income. Once the law passed, civil society became engaged in reforming the sector. She called for international solidarity in supporting sustainable food systems, noting that, to reduce poverty in rural areas, Governments should work with other stakeholders to create national action plans for implementing the United Nations Decade for Family Farming. There are also global policy instruments that communities can use to guide business activities.
Ms. D’SILVA cited three examples of poverty‑ and hunger‑reduction initiatives, noting first that India adopted a rural employment guarantee act, which has helped transform the lives of people in rural areas. A unique identification technology enables digital payments, which benefited many. During the pandemic, a project undertaken with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) created a network of civil society organizations to engage in relief efforts. This type of coalition is “the need of the hour” during disaster relief, she stressed.
Mr. GUARCO said that many challenges are global, but solutions are local. The underlying problem is the current model of development, he said, stressing the need for a new development model based on a “democratized” economy and financial system. For instance, local savings can be used for local development. There is a need to create a value chain, in which everyone is paid fairly.
Mr. CARR stressed the need for “staying close” to people who suffer, such as people out of jobs and women who were battened. There are many communications networks in the world, which must be used to speak up for the voiceless. What is needed is a network of stakeholders who help those who are falling far behind.
The representative of Samoa, speaking on behalf of the Pacific small island developing States, underscored the need for urgent and coherent action towards eradicating poverty and hunger in all its forms. The pandemic has worsened inherent vulnerabilities and developmental challenges faced by countries in the region, due to the impact of containment measures, such as border closures. Despite the few revenue streams at its disposal, the region has worked since the start of the pandemic to strengthen national health‑care and social protection systems, bridge the digital divide and provide free education, he said, adding: “This is a high price to pay for vulnerable countries.” He expressed concern about the exacerbation of pre-existing educational gaps, pointing out that the shift to online platforms was challenging for the region. Moreover, a gender‑responsive recovery is needed to address socioeconomic inequalities, which have been exacerbated during the crisis. The region has few formal social protection measures, and a high dependence on ties to family and community members overseas, he said, which has led to many communities turning to nature and subsistence agriculture for survival. He went on to call for the mobilization of adequate finance to enable the region to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. As well, the development of a Multidimensional Vulnerability Index for small island developing States is essential, as it can be used to access concessional financing.
The representative of Guyana, associating herself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), detailed the diverse and expansive interventions taken by her country to respond to the pandemic’s devastating impact on the most vulnerable, effects that have eroded years of efforts to eradicate hunger and poverty. Underscoring the need for accelerated collective action across developmental divides to tackle poverty, hunger and pandemic recovery, she called for strategies tailored to factors that impede such efforts. Noting that, in 2021, Guyana, which is vulnerable to climate change and extreme weather events, faced severe flooding, which affected 130,000 acres of farmland and killed 1.3 million animals, she said the Government responded by distributing medical kits to reduce the risk of water‑borne disease, and cash grants to households and the agriculture sector. To enhance climate resilience, Guyana introduced a low-carbon development strategy in 2009, which sets out a vision for inclusive, sustainable development, while maintaining Guyana’s forest — comprising about 85 per cent of its territory. She outlined programmes for accessible and free training, and empowerment opportunities for women, youth, the unemployed and persons living with disabilities, along with steps to tackle the learning loss brought on by the pandemic, notably through online scholarships, child‑care subsidies, education cash grants and hybrid learning models. As food systems are critical to eliminating hunger, reducing poverty and achieving several Goals, she said Guyana is spearheading the CARICOM Agri-Food Systems Agenda, which prioritizes regional food security and nutrition.
The representative of Guinea, offering a snapshot of recent national developments, said the transitional authorities have adopted a plan for re‑establishing the State and for a range of recovery efforts, with social development at the centre. The Government has signed documents to end violence against children and women, and adopted laws and a legal framework for the protection of persons with disabilities, including albinism. After grappling with the pandemic, Guinea is doing well, but the health crisis has had a deep impact on vulnerable populations. To address this, she said the Government has worked hard to enhance efforts, from boosting the poverty fund to implementing targeted projects for post-pandemic recovery.
The representative of Venezuela, noting that the pandemic has exacerbated social inequalities in countries of the global South, underlined the need for States to undertake public policies which accelerate progress towards achieving the 2030 Agenda, with solidarity, international cooperation and respect for dialogue. During the pandemic, Venezuela has continued to implement its social model in a fair, free and participatory manner, to ensure access to health care, education and housing, to strengthen gender equality and conserve the natural environment. He set out steps taken to tackle the crisis, including a national immunization plan, which has led to 95 per cent of the population being vaccinated against COVID-19. He called for enhanced international cooperation to eradicate hunger and poverty, through fair trade and a more socially responsible private sector. Further, steps must be taken to foster a food system that has a gender focus, protects ethnic diversity and enhances harmony with nature, he said, adding: “Food must be viewed as a right, not as merchandise.” Actions must be taken to address the needs of the vulnerable, and to educate the public about food models imposed upon them by large corporations that work against local cultures, he added. He also called for ending the sanctions imposed on Venezuela, which affect 30 million Venezuelans.
The representative of Trinidad and Tobago, endorsing the CARICOM statement, said her country has established a Road Map to Recovery Committee to chart the way forward in re-stimulating the economy and society after the pandemic. To that end, the Government has introduced income and salary support grants, and enhanced its food‑support programme, in addition to enacting a range of social support measures to meet the nutritional needs of families. She went on to note that the Government is working to complete the digitalization of social services, developing coordinated mechanisms for service provision through a “one door” approach. On climate change, the Government has sought to identify vulnerable communities in order to design and implement effective adaptation strategies. Expressing her concern over the high and growing food import bill, she recognized the need for Trinidad and Tobago to produce most of the food it consumes, with efforts trained on building sustainable agricultural systems. She also highlighted her country’s commitment to leaving no one behind, citing its “Vision 2030” initiative and development of a national poverty‑reduction strategy.
The representative of Germany said that, to end the pandemic, it is vital to focus on the needs of the most vulnerable, noting that children have not only missed out on school, but also social contact. Describing young people as “vital actors for peace, social justice and social development” who must be taken seriously and heard, she called on States to ensure their meaningful participation. Germany launched a €2 billion action programme in May 2021 to help children catch up with lost schooling and agreed on a basic child allowance to improve benefits for as many children as possible. Germany is also willing to support the School Meals Coalition that emerged from the United Nations Food Systems Summit. Pointing to German’s zero‑tolerance policy on child and forced labour, and concerns about the severe effects of COVID-19 on older persons, she said the Government will also use its Group of Seven Presidency to advocate for equal pay for equal work, including pay transparency, and a fair valuation and distribution of paid work and unpaid care work between men and women. Two youth delegates then took the floor to describe young people’s exclusion from society, especially those living in rural areas or remote communities. They called on States to ensure political decisions affecting youth include them in a meaningful way. They also highlighted the need to address the education crisis. “We cannot talk about tackling poverty and hunger without talking about education,” they insisted.
The representative of the United Arab Emirates said the pandemic continues to shed a dark shadow over the world, but her country has pioneered the way forward, making changes to Government structures to accelerate decision-making. She pointed to the establishment of a national committee comprising all ministries to achieve fast recovery from the pandemic. To deal with the new economic situation, the Government created employment opportunities to foster sustainable development. It supported the labor market and strengthened trade by aiding businesses and offering cash grants to those most affected. The Government also established a social solidarity fund to assist other countries, providing tons of supplies to more than 100 countries, and built field hospitals and mobile clinics in developing nations.
The representative of Malawi said 161 million people around the world are experiencing crisis levels of acute food insecurity in 2021, a 4 per cent increase over 2020. In the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, close to 46 million people were food insecure, due in part to supply chain failures, which has led to price increases and poverty. Female-headed households in the lowest quartile of the income distribution are the most affected. Malawi registered a 37 per cent decrease in the number of food‑insecure people during the 2021/2022 consumption season. To consolidate this gain, it facilitated the development of the 2021/2022 Lean Season Response Plan. Beyond these efforts, the Government is intensifying its COVID-19 vaccination campaign, recruiting health personnel and working to ensure gender equality in all sectors. However, these efforts have been compromised by the “ravaging” impact of Cyclone Ana, which hit Malawi in January. “The intensity of the damage and loss reminds us all of the nexus [among] climate change, food security and poverty,” he said, calling for partnerships and collaboration at regional and international levels to ensure expedited rebuilding and recovery.
The representative of Spain said the pandemic has highlighted the role of public services and social protection in guaranteeing human security, contrasting with the traditional concept of security, which ignores social rights. For its part, Spain has strengthened its public health system and worked to promote and protect employment, allowing it to declare that there are now more jobs than at the start of the pandemic. “Social shield” measures include the provision of a minimum salary for those who qualify and the prohibition of evictions for people who do not have other alternatives. Spain approved the national sustainable development strategy in June 2021, which targets eight challenges and outlines measures to reduce inequalities, close the gender gap, end job insecurity, address the demographic challenge and meet climate commitments. All this would be impossible without multilateralism, with the United Nations at the centre.
The representative of Brazil recalled that, even before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the current international health emergency, Brazil mobilized its national unified health system to prioritize the most vulnerable and those most at risk of contamination by COVID-19. Despite supply challenges, nearly 70 per cent of the Brazilian population is now fully vaccinated, with vulnerable groups enjoying priority access to vaccines. Noting Brazil’s support for such multilateral initiatives as the ACT Accelerator and the global COVAX Facility, he declared: “It is both an ethical and a practical imperative to address the unequal production and distribution of vaccines and other medical supplies across the globe.” Brazil has also donated up to 10 million doses of vaccines to other developing countries, especially in Latin America and Africa, he said.
Also speaking in the general discussion were representatives of Austria, Liberia, Panama, Sudan, Dominican Republic and Colombia.