Employment and food security: broadening the debate


On 17th October 2012, at the 39th Committee on World Food Security (CFS) in Rome, the Young People and Agri-Food Theme of Future Agricultures co-hosted a side event on rural employment and food security, with FARM, CIRAD and AFD,

The event highlighted the importance of broadening debates in agriculture and food security from production to include other rural activities directly linked to agricultural value chains (from inputs through to agro-processing of food and non-food products).

This approach, rooted in local development and the strengthening of rural-urban linkages, is a way to deal with the twin challenges of employment and income generation, both of which are critical to livelihood building and food security.

The presentations spoke to three questions:

  1. Is food production the only role of the agriculture sector? What about generating jobs and income?
  2. Do jobs in the farming sector meet the aspirations of young people?
  3. What is the quality of jobs on offer?

Addressing the first question, Bruno Losch (CIRAD) presented lessons from the RuralStruc programme, a 5-year comparative study across seven countries at different stages of structural transformation. With specific reference to sub-Saharan Africa, the main policy prescriptions to support rural transformation include: adequate policy support to family farms; a broadening of the small-versus-large farm debate to encompass employment issues; and inclusion of employment and environment in modernisation alongside intensification and mechanisation. Support to agriculture must be couched within broader support to rural development, with consideration of the potential of the ‘missing middle’ (i.e., small cities and rural boroughs with strong local linkages).

Jennifer Leavy (FAC/IDS) discussed some of the findings from FAC Young People and Agri-Food theme research related to youth aspirations in agriculture, drawing on voices from the field in Ethiopia and Senegal. She sketched out the main messages emerging from the Young People, Farming and Food Conference in March 2012, asking: Can the agri-food sector help to meet the expectations and aspirations of young people? The research highlights how the disjunction between policy on the one hand, and understanding and evidence on the other, is unlikely to lead to effective policy and good development outcomes. Policy responses therefore must articulate with ongoing economic, political and social transitions AND young people’s own imperatives, aspirations, strategies and activities.

A lively and engaging roundtable discussion, chaired by Nicolas Bricas (CIRAD), highlighted issues around decent work and the need to take a holistic approach to labour issues to include quality of work; and the potential role for farmer organizations and other rural institutions in supporting young people in agriculture. The role of these organizations in structural changes was also discussed.

Olivier de Schutter (UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food), summing up the discussion, remarked on the tendency towards polarisation of the options for employment in rural areas – seen either as family farms or international markets and trade. He stressed how important it is to support family farms in order to achieve multiplier effects in rural areas via income and consumption, as well as increasing the power of smallholders to impact on public policy via their lobby and voice in decision-making, by helping them to be better organised. The role of women and ‘feminisation’ of agriculture is a key part of the employment debate, as well as the importance of unpaid care and the care economy.

Photo: Improved productivity, by USAID on Flickr