Economic resilience: more than the economy?

International Development Week in Canada takes place from Feb 6-12th and MEDA is examining several key themes and areas during this time. Today, we discuss the theme of Economic resilience during COVID-19, exploring the social and economic fallout from the pandemic and our collective ability to rebound.

Two years ago, countries around the world began implementing lockdowns and other restrictions to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus. These lockdowns resulted in an unprecedented disruption in global markets, a rise in food systems vulnerabilities, and a socio-economic crisis few of us have witnessed in our lifetime.

After decades of progress on reducing global poverty and inequalities, the pandemic has eroded many gains. In India, the annual incomes of 20% of the most economically marginalized households dropped by more than 50 percent  (2020-21) while the incomes of the top 20 percent grew by close to 40 per cent.[1]

Youth, women, and those living in poverty have been particularly impacted, often shouldering an unequal burden.[2] [3] Violence against women has increased to the point where one in three women report that they, or a woman they know, has experienced violence since the COVID-19 crisis began.[4]

The pandemic and the disruption it created remains the “biggest risk” to the world’s economy, according to the IMF. Yet the global economy is bouncing back faster than expected[5] and experts believe pandemic-related restrictions will soon start to decrease or disappear.

‘Rebounding’ for the future

The word ‘resilience’ comes from the Latin verb resilire, meaning to rebound. In the two years since the start of the pandemic, the development sector has pushed for rebuilding focused on greater resilience for those who are economically marginalized. We have argued that we cannot ‘bounce back’ or ‘rebound’ to business as usual-  instead, we must transform this crisis into a turning point in defining and addressing prosperity.

Economic resilience is inadequate without improving equality and addressing climate change mitigation and adaptation. This is particularly true in the agri-food market systems in which we work; a resilient food system must provide equitable economic benefits that support social cohesion and community resilience while promoting sustainable food production that minimizes environmental harm.

Without addressing resilience in a holistic manner, it is highly unlikely that ambitious goals, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), will be fulfilled. In other words, the goals of  improved agricultural productivity, higher incomes for small-scale food producers, in particular women and family farmers, and building more sustainable food production systems and resilient agricultural practices, will not be achieved.

The COVID-19 crisis has reinforced that MEDA’s commitment to economic prosperity, gender equality, social inclusion, the environment, and systems change is more critical than ever. MEDA and its partners in the Global South work closely with enterprises, networks, funds, and governments in agri-food systems to address systemic barriers to resilience and ensure that the burden for resilience is not placed on the very individuals who are most marginalized in societies. 

The resilience of our global food system requires collective, multi-disciplinary attention. Failing to address all aspects of resilience ultimately jeopardizes the well-being of the people we work for: women, youth, and men small-scale producers in lower-income countries.

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  • Jennifer King

    Former Technical Director, Market Systems. Jennifer is a sustainable development professional with technical and programmatic expertise in agri-food market systems and private sector development, women’s economic empowerment (WEE), and marketing and communications in various regions including Canada, South Asia, Nicaragua, and Africa. Jennifer currently leads MEDA's Market Systems Technical Unit. Previously, she managed a six-year women's economic empowerment and agri-food project in Myanmar.

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