An effective synergy

Interview with Mr. Bernd Seiffert & Ms. Michelle Mills, Food and Agriculture Organization, resource persons for the training activity on “Harvesting a future without child labour: eliminating harmful practices in agriculture”, held on 3 to 7 November 2014 on Campus.

You came to Turin to share your experiences with our participants on a FAO-ILO e-learning course on ending child labour in agriculture. Can you also tell our readers something about this experience?

We have seen that the FAO and ILO have had very good experiences when undertaking joint capacity development activities at country level, for instance bringing ministries of agriculture and labour together on issues such as how labour legislation can better apply to agriculture, as often labour legislation explicitly excludes agriculture, and likewise how agricultural policies can be better included in the ILO decent work agenda. This approach has worked in a number of countries, for example in Malawi. However, we quite quickly felt that we were limited in the scale that could be reached and this was part of the drive when the FAO & ILO decided jointly to engage in the development of a new e-learning course on ending child labour in agriculture. We hope that this course, currently under development, with 18 lessons, and is therefore quite comprehensive, will enable us to reach a much larger audience. We have already published the first three lessons for the public, and we have particularly targeted it at four stakeholders:

  • Agricultural policy makers and advisors
  • Senior technicians implementing and monitoring agriculture and food security programmes
  • Agricultural researchers, who can influence the development of agriculture technologies and practices. For instance, labour-saving technologies is a very interesting approach to reducing child labour demand and also safe agricultural practices
  • Agricultural statisticians to better understand where and what kind of tasks children undertake in agriculture, what the working conditions are and entry points for stakeholders to take action

In brief, it is targeted at agriculture stakeholders, but it is definitely an interesting course for other audiences. Since 60% of child labour is in agriculture, we felt that it was time for agriculture stakeholders to come on board more actively and take action. The ILO is the leader among UN agencies on child labour and has done excellent work in particular in reducing child labour in international agriculture value chains. We formed a partnership in 2007 with several organizations and found out that there are areas, where child labour is very closely interweaved with poverty, that are difficult to reach with research and approaches and we need to broaden the base of stakeholders to work together on issues like child labour, for instance in small-scale fisheries or farms, where there is often a situation of self-employment, and farmers and producers are not organized through workers or employers’ associations, not even through farmers or producers’ organizations. We need new mechanisms of working together and we piloted this joint e-learning course through an international partnership for cooperation on child labour and agriculture. This will be a very important tool to reach a larger audience bringing more ministries of labour and agriculture together to collaborate.


Why are child labour issues important in agriculture?

According to the latest ILO estimate, there are roughly 98 million children working in agriculture.  Most of them undertake unpaid family work. This context is mainly due to poverty in many situations, as well as many other complex issues.  In addition of course to the human rights perspective and the perspective of the ILO core labour standards, from an agricultural perspective, it is very important to address this issue, because if children do not have access to education, they will not have good work opportunities within the agricultural sector in future as well. Looking at the global demand for more available food over the next few decades, we need to innovate in agriculture, we need to educate the workforce to be more innovative and productive, both from labour and agriculture perspectives. Addressing child labour in agriculture will help agricultural organizations to achieve their organizational goals of sustainable increases in agricultural production and food security.


How can children be protected from hazards and risks in agriculture through the education of stakeholders?

Indeed, the education of stakeholders is certainly a core element, but in this e-learning course there is a specific lesson that deals with the hazards in child labour. For instance, there is a lesson on pesticides, in particular for the age group above the minimum age of employment but below 18, where a work situation could either be hazardous child labour, for example when applying pesticides, but also a situation of decent youth employment if a sixteen year old undertakes farming practices, has a good income from it and at the same time undertakes safe agriculture practices that are alternatives to the use of pesticides. We have this unique opportunity to even change the situation of hazardous child labour into one of decent youth employment in certain situations. This indeed needs the capacities of many actors and again with this e-learning course we think we provide a lot of the approaches, tools and knowledge needed to recognize a situation and these untapped potentials.


Can you tell our readers something about your experience in delivering the course for us?

It is the third time we have come to the Centre from the FAO to provide facilitation, support and presentations in this course on child labour in agriculture and we find it an excellent tool in many respects. It helps the countries that send their civil servants and employers and workers’ representatives to take on the spirit of a joint partnership for a better coordination on issues of child labour, and to be multipliers on return to their country. There are a number of cases that we identified through this course as champions to continue working at country level and this will open opportunities in a number of countries. I think this is an excellent opportunity. Linking this back to our discussion on e-learning, when my colleague Michelle presented this e-learning course, we identified a number of participants to be strong advocates and champions in making this course known at country level and we were thinking of how certain organizations could best be incentivized to let their staff take this course. 


Do you have a special message to convey in this regard?

I think the FAO sees a lot of potential in working with the ILO and the Centre also in the future. We already work together on a number of areas, such as food security, gender, decent employment, but we will strengthen this more, since our two organizations have many objectives in common and we could deliver more and better cost effective capacity development services at a higher level in our member countries.


More info at: www.fao.org/2/childlabouragriculture

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