Farmers, ranchers, foresters and fishers around the world face similar challenges as they seek to produce nutritious food for their families, communities and for more distant markets.
Business cycles go from boom to bust; heat stress and extreme weather contribute to unbearable working conditions; little chance for advancement and stagnant wage growth dampen youth interest in farming; and remote rural locations lead to isolation from modern services and amenities.
Producers need equitable work opportunities and the chance to build thriving businesses. With the adoption of more sustainable agricultural policies and a focus on improvements for decent work and access to education, training and innovation, producers can help fulfill the sustainability imperative and transform agri-food systems for healthy people and a healthy planet.
Sustainability in an Uncertain Season
Farmers everywhere are impacted differently by the agricultural business cycle. How they respond to downturns—particularly when it comes to building resilience against future shocks—depends on their level of education, training, access to finance, information and technology and supportive public policies that enable them to compete and take advantage of market opportunity.
Governments must help by providing essential public goods such as infrastructure, agricultural research and extension services and access to credit and risk management services. Fair and efficient trade helps farmers supply new markets and more consumers.
During volatile business cycles of agriculture, farmers must explore every opportunity to cut costs, improve production and business practices and wisely manage their natural resource bases for long-term sustainability.
Key strategies include effective business planning, data management for decision support and productivity to lower costs and be competitive. Farmers also seek to improve the quality of their products to gain a price premium from the consumer market.
No Workers, No Food: Labor Challenges in Agriculture
Agricultural labor can be dangerous and difficult, and wages are often stagnant. By 2030, some four billion people will live in regions with increasingly hot climates; agricultural workers will account for 66 percent of hours lost due to heat stress.
Around the world, 44 percent of agricultural workers are younger than 14 years old and 66 percent of agricultural workers live in extreme poverty.1 Many do not have secure access to land and to the assets they need to improve their farm operations.
These challenges are resulting in a youth exodus from the agriculture sector that requires urgent attention.
Rural areas are home now to 600 million youth, who are the face and the future of food security in their countries.
Understanding their needs and providing them with opportunities from an early age to participate in successful rural agricultural businesses is part of a wider strategy to reverse the youth exodus from agriculture.
A range of new approaches are being established to inspire and support youth to remain engaged in agriculture and to help feed their communities and the world.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has developed a methodology for youth training, the Junior Farmer Field and Life School (JFFLS).
In use since 2004, the approach enhances skills and knowledge in agriculture, markets and business and is aimed at young people throughout Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Topics are addressed through small group discussions, observation, role-playing and experimentation.
The approach can be adapted to a wide range of settings and participants,including those youth displaced due to political instability and conflict.
A new form of JFFLS training includes “training of youth trainers”, a peer-to-peer vocational training in which trained youth are involved in mobilizing and sensitizing their peers in opportunities in agriculture and food industries. On average, each youth trainer graduate has re-trained 20 other rural youth in his/her district, bringing a positive spillover effect.2 Key training themes include conserving water, promoting good health, improving aquaculture, adapting to climate change, and addressing land and property rights.
A global movement of young professionals has emerged who are advocating for more youth participation and leadership to shape sustainable food systems. These young professionals launched YPARD (Young Professionals for Agricultural Development) in 2006 to be a global network of resources and mentoring, led by young professionals in agriculture for youth. Today, YPARD has more than 15,000 members in over 60 national working groups that are advancing new ideas and opportunities for one another and for the next generation of agriculture leaders.
As an international financial institution working to alleviate rural poverty, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has provided $18.5 billion in grants and low-interest loans to projects since 1978 that have reached about 464 million people. To address challenges of youth development throughout many of its country programs, IFAD is promoting a new approach to agriculture and rural development: youth-sensitive development, incorporating aspirations and concerns of youth and targeting specific programs and policy toward agribusiness improvements so youth can succeed.Keep Reading
Agriculture is Hiring!
In many developed countries, labor for agriculture is evaporating; young people are now seeking higher wages and off-farm jobs.
After the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, uncertainty around work status has begun to shrink the number of workers available to harvest crops. Solutions for hiring seasonal agricultural labor must be prioritized in a post-Brexit economy or many farms will struggle to stay in operation.
As the U.S. economy continues to grow, a challenging trend has emerged: while the booming economy is good news for many, in the rural agricultural sector there are fewer manual laborers available for agriculture.
Coupled with a shrinking number of migrant workers from Mexico who have long served as a reliable source of both year-round and seasonal labor, the agricultural labor shortage is likely to persist and grow worse in coming years.
Farmers in the U.S. are advocating for better and more streamlined work visa programs, as the current system is cumbersome and is not flexible or responsive to demand. The lack of workers leaves crops unharvested and contributes to food losses, while animals need care round-the-clock. Farm workers increasingly face heat stress, especially working in horticulture and specialty crop operations where manual labor is used rather than machinery.
Food processing plants also experience labor stress, as they tend to be located in small towns and need a reliable workforce. Wages and opportunities for upward mobility must be improved to retain workers and reduce turnover.
In the meantime, innovative solutions are being developed to match labor that is available with farmers who need help. Using information technology, Sadoc and Feliciano Paredes created a platform called AgHelp that connects local agricultural employers with potential employees. The AgHelp app will be available in English, Spanish and Creole and will be free for farm workers to use.
AgHelp will launch in October 2018 and will include information and social support services (legal, educational and health services) in addition to jobs in agriculture. The app will initially match farm work with workers across Michigan, Florida, Texas, North Carolina and Virginia and will eventually cover more states.
No Justice, No Farmers
Agriculture around the world relies on a labor force that faces risky and difficult working conditions. Thanks to a growing number of socially responsible producers and led by consumer campaigns to raise awareness, agricultural working conditions are improving in some notable cases. Advocacy organizations such as the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Oxfam shine a spotlight on how supply chains can become more just and more sustainable. Oxfam’s new Behind the Barcodes campaign takes a focus on supermarkets and retailers and how they can address growing inequality in their value chains by improving transparency in food sourcing, guaranteeing safe working conditions and equal opportunities for women and fairly sharing food industry revenues with farm laborers.