British actor and filmmaker Idris Elba launched a new United Nations fund on Monday to help farmers in poorer nations, calling on richer economies to provide aid to prevent "needless hunger and suffering" stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.
Elba and his wife, model and activist Sabrina Dhowre Elba, gave their support to a fund set up by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), to help stop economic shocks caused by COVID-19 triggering a global food crisis.
The couple, who were also designated on Monday as goodwill ambassadors for IFAD, contracted the virus themselves in March although reportedly only suffered mild symptoms.
"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," said Elba, 47, in a statement.
"But the fact is, global action is also a matter of self-interest. As long as the pandemic is still raging anywhere, it will pose a threat everywhere," he added, urging donors to ramp up financial support to keep rural food systems operating.
IFAD, a U.N. agency that promotes rural development, said it would put $40 million into the new fund to counter the effects of the pandemic on food production, market access and employment in developing countries.
It also aims to raise at least $200 million more from governments, foundations and the private sector.
In December Elba and his wife visited rural Sierra Leone, where IFAD provided financial services to communities hit by Ebola.
Since the coronavirus began to spread in developing nations, IFAD has been finding ways to help rural families - many of them poor farmers - deal with the deadly disease's ripple effects.
In eastern Senegal, where a curfew and market closures make it hard to sell produce or livestock, the agency is supporting cash transfers and subsidies via smartphones, and distributing seeds and fertilisers ahead of the planting season.
In India's Odisha state, it has worked with local authorities to get watermelons transported to markets, avoiding the loss of 600 tonnes of fruit due to COVID-19 restrictions.
IFAD President Gilbert F. Houngbo, who was raised in rural Togo, West Africa, said farmers were worried about losing their income during the pandemic as lockdown measures in many places could stop them selling crops and buying seeds and fertilisers.
He warned if this happened, progress in the fight against poverty could be upended for the first time in three decades.
"What we are talking about is the risk of a health crisis creating a food crisis," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"(But) I think we have to go even beyond the risk of food insecurity and look at it as we, as a global community, going backwards in the fight against poverty."