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Decent Employment for Agricultural and Rural Development and Poverty Reduction

Of the developing world’s 5.5 billion people, 3 billion live in rural areas, half of humanity. Agriculture is a source of livelihoods for an estimated 86 percent of rural people, and provides jobs for 1.3 billion smallholders and landless workers. Rural employment is a critical means for poverty and hunger reduction, as labour is often the only asset that poor people own. The main employment challenge in rural areas, however, is that many jobs do not ensure decent levels of income and sustainable livelihoods. Rural workers are at the heart of the food production system but are disadvantaged in many respects. They are among the most socially vulnerable, the least organized into trade unions, farmers’ and other employers’ organizations,  and the least likely to have gender equality in opportunities and pay, and access to effective forms of social security and protection. Many of them are employed under poor health, safety and environmental conditions. 

©FAO/Giulio Napolitano

Rural communities generally rely on agriculture, forestry, fisheries and livestock for their livelihoods.

©FAO/John Isaac

Rural men traditionally grow commercial crops and manage livestock.

©FAO/Florita Botts

Rural women grow and prepare most of the food consumed in the home. They raise small livestock, collect water and fuel and care for the children, the sick and the elderly.

©FAO/Giulio Napolitano

Seventy percent of the world's poor live in rural areas.

©FAO/Walter Astrada

Many rural workers receive low earnings, live and work in precarious conditions and have little access to risk-coping mechanisms.

©FAO/Roberto Faidutti

When parents cannot produce or earn sufficient income to ensure their family’s livelihoods, their children are sent to work.

©FAO/Giuseppe Bizzarri

Worldwide, 215 million boys and girls ages 5-17 work instead of going to school.

©FAO/K. Pratt

This hampers their access to quality employment later in life.

©FAO/Peter DiCampo

Rural women are disadvantaged in access to quality and paid employment due to cultural norms, limited access to resources and time consuming domestic responsibilities.

©FAO/Issouf Sanogo

They are generally segmented into lower quality jobs and tend to earn less than men.

©FAO/Kai Wiedenhoefer

Insufficient income limits women’s ability to sustain their families’ well-being and support their communities.

©FAO/Giulio Napolitano

Households and communities benefit when women have access to paid employment, translating in food security and social and economic growth.

© C. Boonjarus

Better quality jobs and equal social protection and labour standards for women and men are key to decent work.

©FAO/Giuseppe Bizzarri

Improving decent work opportunities in rural areas increases food security, reduces poverty and accelerates economic growth and development.

©FAO/Caroline Thomas

Ensuring productive and decent work for rural workers is crucial if they are to escape from poverty and have  the means to produce or purchase adequate and nutritious food. However, efforts to reduce poverty and hunger by raising on- and non-farm incomes and diversifying livelihoods can be hindered by emerging forms of employment relationships based on more flexible and casual forms of work. Major changes are taking place in rural settings worldwide. The increase of value chains associated with agribusiness and agro-industry, the rapid expansion of bio-fuels production and its uncertain impact on employment and the use of land, the also rapidly growing phenomenon of large land-based investments, as well as climate change, are transforming rural production and labour systems. The food price crisis, as well as increasing food price volatility concerns, and the global financial and economic crisis are adding pressure on rural economies and communities. All these new challenges are drawing greater attention to rural areas. They are opening a window of opportunity for countries and the development community at large to invest more in rural areas and address the structural bottlenecks that impede rural development and poverty reduction, in particular those related to rural human resources. 

Human resource-based rural development means providing skills and opportunities for productive work that delivers a fair income, workplace security and social protection for workers and their families, better prospects for social integration and personal development, equality of opportunities and treatment for all women and men, freedom for people to express their concerns, to organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives. For more information on how decent and productive employment contributes to the MDGs, please click here

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has merged  the four strategic goals of employment promotion, social protection, rights at work, and social dialogue into the over-arching concept of "decent work". The ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work is an expression of commitment by countries to encourage fair conditions of employment, by emphasizing: i) freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining; ii) the elimination of forced and compulsory labour; iii) the abolition of child labour; iv) the elimination of discrimination in the workplace. The ILO Declaration on Social Justice for a Fair Globalization (2008), complements this approach by stressing the interrelationship between those four strategic goals, the need for countries’ ownership of the development process, as well as for policy coherence at national and international level, and the importance of partnerships and coordination among international agencies and development actors.

Policy coherence

At the international policy level there is increasing recognition of the importance of the linkages between rural employment, poverty reduction and food security. The report of the UN Secretary-General for the High-level segment (HLS) 2006 of the substantive session of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) focuses on the theme: “Creating an environment at the national and international levels conducive to generating full and productive employment and decent work for all, and its impact on sustainable development”. 

An increased focus on rural employment as a key component of rural development is critical to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), particularly Goal 1 and its target 1.b: “Achieving full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and youth”. It is also critical to achieve other commitments such as those of the 1996 World Food Summit, the World Food Summit: five years later and the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). Decent work-based rural development is also an integral part of efforts to address concerns over persisting high food prices and growing food price volatility, as indicated in the UN High Level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis’ Updated Comprehensive Framework of Action (September 2010); and the global financial and economic crisis as indicated in the CEB paper, published  in the framework of the UN System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) Joint Crisis Initiatives, on Food Security, the Global Jobs Pact and the Social Protection Floor in particular.

Mainstreaming Employment and Decent Work 

The World Summit of the United Nations General Assembly (2005), the High Level Segment of the UN ECOSOC (2006) and the Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) of the UN system (2007) agreed to mainstream the goals of full and productive employment and decent work in their policies, programmes and activities as a means to achieving the internationally agreed development goals. In 2008 the UN Commission for Social Development adopted a resolution  (E/CN.5/2008/L.8) linking the promotion of full employment and decent work for all to ensuring the eradication of hunger and poverty, the improvement of economic and social well-being for all and equitable globalization. 

More specifically, the United Nations System CEB, at its April 2007 session, fully endorsed the Toolkit for Mainstreaming Employment and Decent Work prepared by the ILO in collaboration with FAO and others. Since then the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) adopted a Resolution on 17 July 2007, which calls upon all United Nations Funds, Programmes, Agencies, Functional and Regional Commissions and International Financial Institutions to collaborate in using, adapting and evaluating the application of the Toolkit. In 2008, a Country Level Application of the Toolkit was developed, for use by national stakeholders, UN Country Teams and other development partners operating at country level. 

The Toolkit is designed to be a “lens” that agencies can look through to see how their policies, strategies, programmes and activities are interlinked with employment and decent work outcomes and how they can enhance these outcomes. It is an awareness raising tool and a diagnostic checklist of questions that an organization may ask itself to self-assess and maximize the employment and decent work outcomes of its strategies, policies, programmes and activities. 

The Toolkit is complemented by a set of Guidelines for self assessment. They are intended to help ensure that each organization will be able to determine how it could better deliver the outcomes under its own mandate by integrating employment and decent work outcomes and to use the results of its self assessment to develop its own action plan. 

FAO undertook in 2008 a self-assessment of the impact of its programme on the creation of employment opportunities and mainstreaming of decent work. FAO also prepared a Guidance Document on “How to Address Rural Employment and Decent Work Concerns in FAO Country Activities” (building on the results of the CEB Toolkit for Mainstreaming Employment and Decent Work), which is being disseminated in FAO field offices.  At country level, FAO operates through an Integrated Country Approach which aims at better reflecting decent rural employment within national policies, strategies and programmes related to agricultural and rural development.

Contacts

FAO Focal Point: Peter Wobst, ESW (Peter.Wobst@fao.org)

ILO Focal Point: Loretta de Luca, EMP (deLuca@ilo.org)