Currently about half of the world’s population – and more than three quarters of the world’s poor population – live in rural areas. Inequalities between urban and rural areas remain significant. While the share of agriculture in most national economies is not predominant (and largely composed by small-scale producers), it still represents an important source of livelihoods for one third of the world’s population and about three quarters of the rural population living in extreme poverty, making it a critical sector for poverty reduction, and an essential element for biodiversity. However, agriculture and agri-food systems in general are also associated with high levels of labour market informality, higher exposure to risks of all nature, and limited access to social protection. Rural populations face higher risks of poverty, including working poverty, malnutrition and hunger, poor health, work-related injuries, natural disasters and climate change, and social risks such as child labour and social marginalisation, among others. With low and irregular incomes and a lack of social support, many rural inhabitants are spurred to continue working when sick, often in unsafe conditions, thus exposing themselves and their families to additional risks. Further, when experiencing income losses, they may resort to harmful coping strategies, such as the distress sale of assets, taking on predatory loans, or engaging in child labour. Additionally, small-scale producers have virtually no control over global market prices, possess feeble negotiating power, and are at the mercy of price volatility. Data shows us that persistent income polarisation and wage stagnation is a key driver of inequality – alongside the rising costs of essential services, work fragility and transition, persistent gender, and race gaps, and failing safety nets.
Evidence suggests that social protection can help realise other economic, social, and cultural rights, including the rights to adequate food, healthy diets, clothing, housing, education, and health – all of which are essential to the realisation of human dignity (Sepúlveda and Nyst 2012; Morlachetti 2016). Recent evidence also shows that social protection is an essential tool for promoting economic inclusion and improving natural resource management. In addition, workforce nutrition programmes have already been successfully piloted in many contexts, including by global companies, and are meeting their implementation goals, including improving dietary diversity, reducing rates of anaemia, and increasing awareness of workers’ health and nutrition. These programmes have been increasingly endorsed by the private sector.
The provision of living incomes is one of the pathways strongly supported by agri-food systems’ organisations, civil society, innovative private firms, and a coalition of donors and countries to make our food systems more equitable and sustainable.
This solution cluster is associated with ongoing existing international commitments, initiatives, and cooperation platforms, such as the ILO Recommendation 202, the Global Partnership USP2030 (Universal Social Protection 2030), the different relevant CFS and FAO Voluntary Guidelines (Food Systems and Nutrition, Right to Food, Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries, and others), the Global Compact for Migration and on Refugees, the Living Income Community of Practice, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), the Roadmap on Living Wages of the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH), the ISEAL/GIZ Community of Practice on Living Incomes and the Global Living Wage Coalition. Additionally, this solution cluster is aligned to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 23 and 25. It is also based on extensive data and action to date as well as growing momentum, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic and its current response.
Extending social insurance coverage to workers in agri-food systems requires a set of measures that focuses on overcoming legal, financial, administrative, and institutional barriers. This can be done by adapting the legal framework, financing mechanisms, administrative processes and institutional set-up to the specific needs and situation of workers and the informality in food systems related sectors. Good practices to achieve this goal include taking into account the seasonality and level of income in the collection of contributions in the agricultural sectors, subsidised by governments in some countries; facilitating access to registration through one-stop shops, digital services, and collective registration agreements; promoting social dialogues and partnerships with cooperatives and organisations of producers for raising awareness and trust in the system; and integrating mechanisms for ensuring compliance and setting incentives for participation. Such a strategy to extend coverage is usually associated with a strategy to formalise employment, thereby addressing broader decent work deficits. For those with limited contributory capacities, additional measures may be necessary to mobilise additional resources from the government budget or other sources, such as measures to subsidise contributions at least temporarily. Extending social protection coverage through non-contributory benefits to those who were previously uncovered helps to guarantee at least a basic level of income security and access to essential health services for all. This can be achieved either through universal benefits that are provided to broad categories of the population (such as universal child benefits, old age pensions or a national health service) or targeted benefits for those living in poverty. For targeted benefit schemes, extending coverage typically requires relaxing eligibility criteria.
When designed and implemented in coherence with relevant sectors, social protection is an essential platform to reach additional outcomes such as food and nutrition security, economic inclusion, sustainable management of natural resources, elimination of child labour, women’s empowerment, and youth employment and resilience, as reflected in other solution clusters (Action Tracks 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5). More specifically, social protection is key to support living incomes, fair prices, and fair wages.
To promote living incomes, fair prices, and fair wages, this solution cluster promotes additional measures, essentially the establishment of sustainable pricing/revenue mechanisms or increased sales on fair trade terms, which can help ameliorate the distribution of the value added along the supply chains. Those measures include agreements between actors at the local/national/international level; government initiatives or state-guaranteed agreements (see the case of coffee and Costa Rica); and trade agreements between countries (market access for smallholder farmers, standards, quality, prices, etc.). Revenue mechanisms include specific support for diversification of financing sources, actions on prices of agricultural inputs and payments for environmental services – see the E.U. Common Agricultural Policy, Costa Rica’s experiences with the National Fund for Forestry Financing (Fonafifo), etc. This requires the organisations of small-scale producers to be reinforced and their capacity strengthened. Through stronger producers’ organisations, small-scale producers and agripreneurs can engage in collective marketing, achieve economies of scale, learn successful farming techniques and skills, be efficient business partners, share risks, and improve their bargaining power. This will allow farmgate prices to increase and help increase access to fair markets, including through public procurement measures. Public investments combined with the adoption of sustainable agriculture practices such as agroecology can also help increase farm yields, income resilience, and risk management mechanisms. Associated to social protection measures, one cost-effective approach is school-based agricultural education – a youth-centred, gender inclusive system to prepare future farmers while diffusing improved agricultural practices and technologies to current farmers, through local schools. Finally, this solution cluster aims at fixing broader structural constraints of living income and wages, by guaranteeing access to public services (education, health, and social protection), finance, land, and markets (for input, output, and capital) to break the intergenerational vicious circle of poverty and vulnerabilities of farmers/fishers and workers to price volatility (climate change, supply chain fragmentation, market imperfections and asymmetrical information, informality and a general failure of farmers’ organisations to pool resources and bargain collectively). A combination of these mechanisms, adapted to the particularities of each commodity and region, will allow improvement of small-scale producers and agricultural workers’ incomes and wages. This solution cluster will also reach its objectives by building on a wider and deeper private sector engagement and action to bring the necessary involvement, commitments, insights, experience and resources (IDH Roadmap and the Living Income Community of Practice), that are essential for re-shaping social protection and labour policies reaching multiple outcomes, strengthening human rights in private sector (with a spotlight on land tenure and rights to collective bargaining), facilitating access to markets and finance, and re-balancing bargaining power.
At the governmental level, integrated policies to reach those different multiple objectives, especially associating social protection and labour to agricultural measures, do not happen naturally, and they need to be purposely promoted. To achieve this goal requires an adjusted policy architecture, the establishment of coordination and financing arrangements, the development of human capacities, and operational arrangements that can facilitate synergies and help manage trade-offs (design, implementation procedures, monitoring, and evaluation). Similarly and at the “workplace” level, associating the expansion of social protection to the provision of a systemic framework, tools, and technical support can help, additionally, to start or improve workplace nutrition programmes, such as the one promoted by the Workforce Nutrition Alliance – which can include not only nutritious and safe food at work, but also nutrition education campaigns informing workers of the importance of healthy diets and increasing own-consumption of nutritious foods they produce, as well as protection of the rights of female workers to adequately and appropriately breastfeed their young children.