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Decent Rural Employment

Working conditions

Working conditions in rural areas tend to be difficult, precarious and hazardous because rural jobs are mostly informal, with no written contracts and little or no protection. People tend to work for long hours, earning low and unstable incomes and often have to combine more than one activity to make a living.

FAO works to address the key factors that impact job quality in rural areas, including:

Improving Occupational Safety and Health (OSH)

Agriculture is one of the most hazardous sectors in terms of work-related fatalities, non-fatal accidents and occupational diseases. Workers face risks that include operating heavy machinery and equipment, lifting weights and working with animals on a daily basis. They are often exposed to harsh climate conditions, excessive noise and vibration, chemicals, infectious agents, dust and other organic substances. Yet, due to the remote nature of rural areas, agricultural workers often lack access to the necessary health, information and training services to adequately respond to these health hazards. Vulnerable groups are particularly affected, including migrants, seasonal workers, the elderly, women and children.

The role of FAO:

FAO’s work focuses on promoting safer practices across agricultural sub-sectors. For instance, to reduce occupational hazards related to pesticide use, FAO promotes an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Programme that combines different management strategies to grow healthy crops and encourage natural pest control mechanisms. Jointly with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), FAO also performs Secretariat functions for the Rotterdam Convention, which contributes to ensure decent work standards in rural areas by regulating the import and export of certain hazardous chemicals and pesticides.

Extending social protection to rural populations

Most people in rural areas are informal workers and thus have limited or no access to social protection systems. Decent rural employment and social protection complement and reinforce each other. They mutually address the vulnerabilities that rural workers face along their lives, which often stem from hazardous work conditions and the precarious nature of their jobs. Social protection programmes, such as cash transfer or public works schemes, can provide greater income security and a temporary jobs to mitigate income losses during lean harvests or caused by seasonal unemployment. They also can help improve nutrition and access to education and health and enable households to better manage risks and invest in productive activities, both on and off the farm.

The role of FAO:

More stable and secure working conditions in rural areas largely depend on a strong commitment from policy-makers to promote inclusive social protection mechanisms. FAO focuses on producing sound evidence to inform policy and provides timely technical support adapted to country needs.