by Anita Sheth, Senior Advisor for Social Compliance and Development, Fairtrade International
Experts predict that demand for food is expected to increase anywhere between 60 percent to 100 percent by 2050. Who will produce this food, and how can we prevent children from being forced into working in agriculture to meet this demand?
This guest post from Anita Sheth of Fairtrade International was originally published on Food Tank: The Think Tank for Food on June 12, 2018.
According to the most recent estimates by the UN, there are 7.3 billion
people in the world, a number that’s expected
to reach 9.7 billion by 2050. Of this, the number of young people (aged 15 to 24 years) will be roughly
1.5 billion, with a majority living on the continents of Africa and Asia.
This population growth will drive the demand for food in ways that have
never been seen.
Experts predict that demand is expected to increase anywhere between 60 percent to 100 percent by 2050.
The critical question to ask is: Who will produce this food?
Farmer populations are rapidly declining due to age and health factors.
Furthermore, the younger generation has little interest in farming for a
number of reasons – perceived low returns, high risks, difficult and
sometimes hazardous work.
At the same time,
there are an estimated 108 million children forced into working in agriculture every day. These children lose out on
education while risking injury or even death.
The reasons are complex – some social, but mostly economic. When crop
prices fall, the pressure extends to farming families who seek to save
costs on labor. And families living in abject poverty may have little
choice but to send their children out to work. In other cases, young people
seeking independence and a way out of hunger could be forced into work on
World Day Against Child Labor, we’d do well to listen carefully to the voices of young people who
hold the future of the world’s food in their hands. Their insights
about farming can inform solutions to the inter-connected issues of
sustainable livelihoods for small-scale farmers and unacceptable labor,
including child labor.
Listening to Young People
Several years ago, Fairtrade staff interviewed young people in and around
certified cooperatives and associations in 15 countries across the globe to
learn more about the prospects they saw in farming.
For the vast majority of them, agriculture was not regarded as an
attractive livelihood. They cited the reasons mentioned above, but also
more pragmatic concerns that impact well-being, such as calloused hands or
being less attractive to potential partners. They also expressed interest
in more modern skills and technology: “If farming used computers, I
Less than 3 percent of the 1,500 young people we interviewed said they
would like to become farmers. Even fewer said they would become farm
workers. Our follow-up question was then who, in their opinions, would farm
in the future?
“My grandfather got our family into cotton farming. That problem
is for him to solve with my father and my brothers.”
“When I get to be that age I will not have to worry about this,
there will be no more sugarcane growing here so the problem will be
Young people overwhelmingly indicated that their first association with
farming was negative. As one 16-year-old said, “Yesterday, in my
school they had this campaign called feed the world – why should I
feed the world? – my parents have been feeding the world as their
parents before; but me, I still go to bed hungry. What I need is money,
with money I feed myself and even my friends.”
In considering the future of food, it is imperative that we identify and
end unacceptable labor practices that harm children and ultimately trap
them in poverty.
Part of this requires rethinking trade practices that prevent farmers from
earning a living income and having control over their futures, which can
reduce the need to rely on child labor. Fairtrade was created to address
these imbalances by setting minimum prices and premium payments on top of
sales, and empowering small-scale farmers in trade relationships.
Making farming more socially, economically and environmentally sustainable
benefits today’s farmers and children, and could make agriculture a
realistic path forward for young people.
What if we included children?
Taking this a step further, we wondered, what if children could lead on the
identification and remediation of unacceptable labor practices? After all,
who knows more about forced labor and gender-based violence than young
people – acknowledging that such abuses are strongly linked to age
Fairtrade International developed an approach on child and forced labor,
including gender-based violence,
called Youth Inclusive Community-Based Monitoring and Remediation
System. This system places young people in agricultural communities at the heart
of any response.
Beginning in 2014, we established 20 pilots around the world encouraging
producer organizations to employ, and train young people between the ages
of 18 and 24 years on child rights and child protection. They work
alongside certification officers and through labor and well-being
These systems are attractive to young people as they have an opportunity to
use technology, conduct active research, and earn wages comparable to
office workers. They develop campaigns to build community awareness, enable
collaboration with impacted people, and partner with the farmers to create
This approach is bearing fruit providing new opportunities to youth in
By putting young people on a strong footing alongside farmers and field
staff, they can become human rights accelerators, driving positive change
from the start of the supply chain forward.
Pilots like these are just a start. While some have been incredibly
successful and others less so, what is beyond doubt is that the young
people employed by farmer organizations have been passionate, committed and
driven to change the face of agriculture.
Enabling safe and healthy work places, particularly in agriculture, can
only be achieved if we actively listen to and respect the perspectives
of young people already involved in growing and processing our food.