The Rural Poor
Stimulus Facility

A story of recovery and resilience


The COVID-19 pandemic undermined the livelihoods and food security of many poor rural people. 

Restrictions on movement and gatherings prevented producers accessing the inputs and labour they needed at crucial times, leading to smaller harvests and catches, which the farmers, entrepreneurs and fishers then struggled to sell because markets were closed or too expensive to reach.

This cut incomes and upset cash flow, and was made worse by unemployment and reduced remittances. Often people simply could not get the information they needed to adapt to the new challenges. Producers felt abandoned as governments struggled to contain a global pandemic that spread with unprecedented speed. And water became a vital weapon in the fight against disease.

As reports of this crisis poured in, IFAD mobilized resources and allocated them to support rural communities through the Rural Poor Stimulus Facility (RPSF).

The RPSF reached more than 20 million of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. It now provides a valuable model for the kind of support communities need to weather catastrophes and quickly start rebuilding secure food and hygiene systems for the medium and longer term.


The RPSF was launched on 20 April 2020 by IFAD Goodwill Ambassadors Idris Elba and his wife Sabrina Dhowre Elba.

“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.”
Idris Elba, actor and humanitarian, UN Goodwill Ambassador for IFAD

The RPSF drew upon expertise built up by IFAD during more than 40 years of designing and implementing projects to combat rural poverty. Some of those lessons were learned in Sierra Leone, where IFAD helped farmers recover from the 2014 Ebola outbreak and a collapse in the price of iron ore, a major export. Like many emerging economies, Sierra Leone has great agricultural and economic potential, but development is hampered by widespread poverty and the effects of climate change.

RPSF in numbers

RPSF funding was channelled via IFAD-supported country programmes.

This was largely in low-income and lower-middle-income countries, especially those with fragile situations.

Governments, project management teams, farmers’ organizations, NGOs and other partners worked together to ensure fast delivery. We focused on the most effective ways of helping small-scale producers.

Working with partners

Our in-country staff and resources were able to bring quick relief because we are used to working with government agencies and other partners in developing countries to help the poorest of the poor. In eight countries, RPSF projects were accomplished in partnership with the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Programme. In 15 projects we partnered with farmers’ organizations, NGOs and the private sector. 

In Yemen, we partnered with the Social Fund for Development to set up the POLAR programme – Protecting Livelihoods and Agriculture Resilience during COVID-19. The project provided the inputs and training farmers needed to get started. The resulting income has allowed them to access food and health care, while sending their children to school.

The Pacific Islands Rural and Agriculture Stimulus Facility (PIRAS), a multi-country project in the South Pacific, was implemented through both governments and NGOs. With financial support from the RPSF and the Australian Government, PIRAS sought to minimize the impact of COVID-19 on rural households, and promote economic recovery while prioritizing food self-reliance, improving local nutrition and developing opportunities for rural communities in Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu to develop sustainable and equitable livelihoods.

The RPSF supported the SAFE2020 programme, which was designed by and for African farmers in 22 countries and delivered by farmers’ organizations. Here in Eswatini, farmers gather for a meeting.

Pillar 1: Providing the means

When COVID-19 struck, fish merchants in Djibouti could not travel to markets: unsold fish was being thrown away. The RPSF funded coldrooms and other equipment so that fish could be preserved – reducing waste, and boosting nutrition and incomes. Travel restrictions triggered by the pandemic often caused shortages of inputs, or highlighted the absence of storage facilities needed for flexible food supply chains. The RPSF brought enduring solutions to both short-term difficulties and their underlying causes.

In Zambia support from the RPSF enabled Mabvuio Zulli to get the vaccines he needed to immunize his herd of 30 cattle against East Coast fever and other diseases – despite pandemic-related trade restrictions and supply shortages.

"When COVID-19 came, RPSF made sure I could properly immunize my cattle even during the pandemic."
Mabvuio Zulli

Zakaria Amara Baby and other farmers around Gouraye in the semi-arid Guidimaka region of Mauritania used to farm during the winter rainy season, then migrate elsewhere during the rest of the year. Movement restrictions that accompanied COVID-19 forced them to stay. The RPSF funded water towers, pipes and climate-resilient seeds. Now they can irrigate and farm all year round, producing onions, eggplant, carrots, watermelon and other crops even during the dry summer months. 

Savelio Vasega is a fisherman on Upolu Island in the Samoan archipelago. When COVID-19 disrupted trade, Savelio and other fishermen played a pivotal role in ensuring their communities’ food security. He mainly hand-harvests limu fuafua – or “sea grapes”  – a nutritious seaweed considered a delicacy throughout the Pacific Islands. With support from the RPSF and the Australian Government, the Pacific Islands Rural and Agriculture Stimulus Facility (PIRAS) provided him with a traditional wooden canoe and processing equipment that helped boost his business and income.  

“PIRAS has supported me and my family in so many ways that I couldn’t imagine. With the storage coolers, I increase the shelf life of my harvest so I can sell more and earn more income.”
Savelio Vasega

Pillar 2: Getting to market

In the highlands of Fiji’s Ba Province, the pandemic helped drive a shift away from subsistence farming. With support from the RPSF and the Australian Government, the Pacific Islands Rural and Agriculture Stimulus Facility (PIRAS) encouraged farmers to work together in the traditional solesolevaki system. By pooling produce and labour, they were able to process, package and market cassava flour and turmeric locally and for export. This gave them access to new markets, boosted incomes, and broke the isolation brought on by pandemic restrictions on social gatherings.

Inadequate food preservation and storage facilities have long impaired farm incomes and food security. COVID movement restrictions often compounded the problem. So the RPSF provided women’s groups across Sierra Leone with curing and drying machines for their onion crop, and back-up generators to run them. Now the onions are cured and stored in a communal warehouse, they get better prices, and have increased production.

“Before, we were forced to sell all our onions quickly and at a low price because they were perishable, and we didn’t have a safe way to store them.”
Mary Nabie Karaam

Gum arabic is a lucrative cash crop that has many health benefits when eaten, and that is used to control viscosity in products ranging from cosmetics to inks. In Sudan, the RPSF provided Mohamed Siddig with training to help him improve his production and processing techniques. By carefully cleaning, drying, and storing the gum, formed from the sap of two species of acacia tree, and using new market connections provided by the project, Mohamed and other producers increased their incomes and recovered more quickly from the COVID-19 crisis.

Siduith Guillén Panaifo is a farmer and a member of the Allima Cacao agricultural cooperative in Peruvian Amazonia. The RPSF-supported AGRIdigitalización project introduced the group to digital platforms that showcase their cacao products to buyers, enabling them to reach new markets and opportunities.

“I feel fortunate to be able to participate in the different production stages. I have the opportunity to work in the cooperative, to transform our cacao into chocolates, and contribute more income for my family.”
Siduith Guillén Panaifo

In Mauritania the RPSF helped farmers form groups to make market connections and organize transport. Acting together, they can negotiate better prices. This provides more income today, and builds their resilience to future shocks.

“Thanks to the support we received from the RPSF, our vegetable production has multiplied many times over. We used to produce only 200 kilograms of vegetables per year. But this past winter alone, we produced and sold 2.3 tonnes of produce.”
Sidi Ould Ahmed Jeddou

Pillar 3: Funding recovery and expansion

Rajesh Kumar Shreevastav is the Bhairahawa Province Director for the Agricultural Development Bank Ltd, IFAD’s implementing partner for the RPSF project in Nepal. By accelerating the roll-out of the Kisan app and card, an RPSF grant improved farmer cash flows and marketing, while providing digital access to loans to speed recovery.

“Through the Kisan app, farmers now get information about the availability of raw materials, foods, seeds, fertilizers and certified and registered dealers. The Kisan card lets them sell directly to the traders. Through the card, the traders make digital payments which immediately send money to the farmer's accounts.”
Rajesh Kumar Shreevastav

A subsidized loan helped fund expansion at SK Goat Farm, which has grown to become one of Nepal’s leading silage companies. Here, Basanti Gharti, one of the firm’s goat-keepers, feeds grain to part of the herd.

In the Peruvian region of San Martín, the AGRIdigitalización project funded by the RPSF introduced wide-ranging digital services for cocoa farmers. It enabled e-commerce between producers and buyers and gave online access to local financial service providers, ensuring the survival of many family farms.

In The Gambia, cash grants were channelled through the ROOTS project to 500 vulnerable households. The payments turned out to be a lifeline, not only ensuring food security, but laying the foundation to renew livelihoods, such as providing support for breadwinners of large families to build small businesses.

Pillar 4: Connecting people with digital services

Farming is a dispersed industry that thrives when communications improve. By accelerating the spread of digitalization, the pandemic may prove a tipping point in the modernization of agriculture across many low- and middle-income countries.

José Dolores Castillo has been farming coffee on the slopes of Comayagua, Honduras, for fifty years. During the pandemic, rural savings banks became a lifeline for José and other coffee producers. The RPSF funded a project, Innovatech, to develop fintech and agritech digital solutions to help smallholder farmers access markets, financial services and other services in Bolivia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras and Mexico.

Watch a film about José Dolores Castillo.

“There are so many positive things about technology. Today, we no longer have to look for buyers, it’s them who look for us.
José Dolores Castillo

The pandemic prevented agricultural extension officers from visiting farmers to offer advice. In response, the Integrated Agriculture and Marketing Development Project in Sudan set up a digital message processing unit. Umsalama Musa Hamad, an agricultural extension officer, and her colleagues instead guided smallholder farmers using electronic messages.

Across the world in Guatemala, Juana Morales Rodríguez first started weaving fabrics on a single loom, selling them to a buyer in Santa Cruz, a town in the Quiché department of Guatemala. She took out a loan to expand, and now the 27-year-old mother of three is leader of her rural credit union group. The RPSF funded a digitalization campaign, and now Juana can view and manage the group’s savings and loans on a tablet. Here Diego Onésimo Rodríguez, of lender Agros International, provides training on the Mi Caja app, suggesting ways to use the tablet to promote digital literacy.

Over 1 million small-scale farmers in Pakistan were helped through the COVID crisis by an IFAD-supported project that provided advice to farmers via their mobile phones. Automated phone calls gave them crop-related advice and tips on how to become more resilient by using organic alternatives to commercial products that were no longer available due to pandemic-disrupted supply chains.

Providing opportunities for all


Around the world, one person in six has some kind of disability. Of these, 80 per cent live in developing countries. Too often their needs are overlooked.

In keeping with IFAD’s determination to ensure none are left behind, the RPSF supported the Quick Action Economic Response Programme launched in response to the pandemic by the Government of Sierra Leone. The programme helped those with disabilities participate in the vegetable and groundnut value chains, boosting their incomes. Abu Koroma, a father of four in Sierra Leone, used to beg to supplement his government assistance. But aid from the RPSF encouraged disabled people to organize, and Abu was elected chair of a 25-strong group that took up farming with training and material assistance from the IFAD-funded scheme. Though the scheme has ended, Abu’s group plan to expand their business.

Oumoul Khair Sidi Ahmed lives in Limdheibeh, a village in southwestern Mauritania near the border with Mali. She works her market garden plot with other women from her village despite a stroke that left her partially paralysed. The RPSF was implemented during the height of the pandemic as part of the ongoing PROGRES project, jointly funded by IFAD and the government of Mauritania.

 “The project gave me a solar power system and water pump, a water tank and hoses for irrigation, and all kinds of tools that help me do my cultivation,” she says. “Now I can grow vegetable crops all through the year, which helps me feed my family and allows me to sell in the local market for a steady income.”
Oumoul Khair Sidi Ahmed
“We want to show the world that disability is not inability. I am confident that with agriculture we will make the money we need to pull a lot of women with disabilities – the most vulnerable in our community – out of poverty.”
Mariama Bi Jalloh

Mariama is a graduate in business administration and the chair of the Forward Women with Disability Organization (ForWDO) in Sierra Leone. The RPSF provided seeds, fertilizer and other inputs to the group, and funds to pay for labour and rent farm machinery. A good crop fed their families and earned income, partly invested in producing rice.


Women are estimated to be 43 per cent of agricultural workers in developing countries. They are often farmers and heads of households, managing alone after the death of a spouse, or outward migration of men in search of work. In Mauritania and elsewhere the RPSF, like all IFAD projects, took care to include their needs when designing assistance.

In Pakistan, an RPSF project helped women farmers overcome the challenges of the pandemic with personalized advice and knowledge shared via their mobile phones.

Mavis was recently widowed when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. She lives in Kangomba Ward village in Zambia’s Kabwe District, where the IFAD-backed Enhanced Smallholder Livestock Investment Programme had helped her buy a solar-powered irrigation system for her farm. But when movement was restricted and markets were closed, she was unable to sell her maize, soybeans, velvet beans and cowpeas, or hire the extra labour she needed. The RPSF helped her get back on her feet, start selling seeds, and reorganize her production.

“My income has doubled. Now I also make my own feed for my chickens and livestock, which saves me a lot of money.”

In Sudan an RPSF grant provided training and inputs that enabled women to set up home gardens to grow vegetables. Growing cucumbers, pumpkins and other fast-maturing plants improved food supplies and diets – but still left time to share a meal.


More than 600 million of the world's 1.8 billion young people live in fragile areas or conflict zones. Even in the best of times, they face many challenges. But, when provided with skills and opportunities, rural youth can be a driving force in building the resilience of their communities.

Mabinty Sillah has become a skilled machinery operator after the RPSF provided a mini power tiller to her women’s group in the village of Lungi Modia, Sierra Leone. The 19-year-old uses the machine to till the soil, weed the onion and vegetable field, transport materials and produce, and even pump water. This has helped women producers recover from the pandemic, and increase output for the longer term.

In the highlands of Ethiopia, the RPSF funded a 50-strong “gully gang” to build gullies to channel seasonal rainwater into managed irrigation, reducing soil erosion and the effects of climate change. The team comprised young men such as Terrefe Tsega, whose livelihoods had been hit by the pandemic.

In Madagascar, the RPSF helped equip relay farmers such as Daniel Randriamanjary with bikes and smartphones. These volunteers visit producers to provide advice on cultivation and animal husbandry. Though roads were closed to motor vehicles during the pandemic, Daniel and his colleagues were able to reach 2,100 farmers to offer advice and organize input deliveries and the sale of produce by smartphone.

David Santos Huancas ensures product traceability at the Allima Cacao agricultural cooperative which brings together 400 families of small farmers in the Amazonian area of Chazuta, Peru. He benefited from RPSF-funded training in business management, food safety and e-commerce.

“We not only generate profits, but also create job opportunities for young people and for the children of our farmer members.”
David Santos Huancas

In Fiji’s rural Sigatoka highlands, Filipe Baituwawa and other farmers in his community had to cultivate more diverse crops to feed themselves during the pandemic. PIRAS provided vegetable seeds, organic fertilizer and fencing so that he could grow fresh and highly nutritious vegetables, both to eat at home and to sell in the local market.

“PIRAS has opened my eyes to see that there are so many opportunities in agriculture that youths can tap into to financially support themselves and their families. We just need the appropriate training and mentorship.”
Filipe Baituwawa

Safeguarding livelihoods in fragile situations