Webinar insights: Pathways to more jobs and better incomes in agrifood systems
Building inclusive and sustainable agrifood systems can play a key role in achieving sustainable development goals. Agrifood systems account for more than 70% of employment in low-income countries and employs more than 1 billion people worldwide. Yet achieving equitable and inclusive livelihoods and employment is at risk.
Smallholder farmers, agribusiness companies, processors, consumers and their activities form the backbone of agrifood systems worldwide. They are responsible for the primary production of food and non-food products, and for moving the wheels of the food supply chain from producer to consumer. Despite the rapid growth of technological and institutional innovations, the stark reality is that many workers in low-income countries face low and irregular incomes, poor quality jobs and working conditions, lack of access to basic social and productive services, as well as being remote and marginalised.
To explore solutions, KISM - the Knowledge Platform for Inclusive and Sustainable Food Markets hosted a virtual webinar on 27 July 2023 to share key findings from a new meta-study, Creating more and better employment in agrifood systems from the CGIAR research initiative on Rethinking Food Markets. The meta-study, authored by Julio A. Berdegué, Research Professor at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Carolina Trivelli, Researcher at the Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, and Camilo Corvalán, Specialist in rural development and sustainable agriculture with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), reviewed the available evidence from almost 300 resources to identify promising tools, policies and innovations that have the potential to improve employment and create better quality jobs in agrifood systems within low-income countries.
During the webinar, Berdegué and Trivelli shared key findings and knowledge gaps from the study, reflecting their understanding of the literature. This was followed by further insights from an expert panel including Benjamin Davis, Director of the Inclusive Rural Transformation and Gender Equality Division at FAO and Thomas Reardon, Distinguished Professor of Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics at Michigan State University.
The following key take-aways emerged from the webinar:
- Innovation is paramount to transforming agrifood systems and providing better employment. The study highlights thirteen value chain and policy-based innovations to improve employment in low-income countries. Value chain innovations range from digital innovations for farm activities to flexible labour contracts. Policy innovations include investing in infrastructure and services that can strengthen the links between rural and urban areas, social protection policies that can protect workers from poverty and social exclusion, and more. Most of these innovations were found to have positive effects on employment, but still require more research on how they can be implemented effectively in different settings to get the same or better results.
- There is no one-size-fits-all solution. The heterogeneity of agrifood systems means that any innovation or intervention will vary enormously across geographies, types of product lines and value chains, and economic, social, environmental, and cultural contexts. This makes it challenging to recommend or rank specific innovations, as performance will typically vary by context. We require more research to better understand what types of conditions enable these innovations to thrive within different contexts, and how to scale them to reach more people.
- Women and youth are the most marginalised groups in agrifood systems and benefit the least from better employment options. The innovations mainly benefit better off, middle-aged men within modern value chains, which are those that are largely formal, mediated by contracts and often supply global brands and retailers. Men in these modern value chains tend to receive higher-income wage jobs, employment with formal contracts, and jobs with health, pension, and other complementary benefits. On the contrary, women and younger men are overrepresented in more informal, flexible, seasonal, and unprotected jobs in more traditional value chains. It is unclear whether working within agrifood value chains is beneficial for women as this varies across countries, regions, value chains and product lines. More understanding is needed on the effect of specific innovations on the employment prospects of women and youth in different contexts.
- Unlocking the “hidden middle” of agrifood systems can stimulate growth in employment and job creation. This midstream segment of the agrifood system is often hidden from food policy debates, yet it is a dynamic and fast-growing space. It is driven by the rapid rise of small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) in wholesale, logistics, and processing. SMEs could play a key role in transforming agrifood systems and provide better employment options in low-income countries. There is still a need to better understand how different innovations affect the “hidden middle” and how to leverage these innovations to get the most impact.
- These innovations are just the tip of the iceberg. The literature mostly focuses on how different innovations affect the employment and working conditions of workers within modern value chains that can access these innovations and services. This shifts much needed attention away from the large majority of people engaged in poor working conditions in agrifood systems that cannot access these services. There is scope for more research in this grey area.
- Key knowledge gaps still exist on how to improve employment in agrifood systems in low-income countries. There is scope for more research to better understand how these different innovations, interventions, and policies can lead to positive effects for employment and inclusivity in different contexts, for different types of workers and at different segments of the agrifood value chain.
Watch the webinar below:
Vi Nguyen is a Senior Coordinator for Innovations and Learning with ISEAL. Swati Malhotra is a Communications Specialist with IFPRI’s Markets, Trade, and Institutions Unit. Rajalakshmi Nirmal is Senior Program Manager with IFPRI’s Markets, Trade, and Institutions Unit.
To find out more about the opportunities for creating more and better employment in agrifood systems, read the meta-study from the CGIAR ‘Rethinking Food Markets’ Initiative that this webinar was based on. You can also join the discussion with others on the KISM Discussion Forum.