Climate Smart Agriculture Sourcebook

Social protection and decent rural employment for CSA

Enabling Frameworks

Decent Rural Employment and Climate-smart Agriculture: the Green Jobs approach

C7 - 5.1. State of the problem and its connection to climate change

Agriculture continues to be the largest employer in the world. Nevertheless, in rural areas, unemployment and underemployment are high. There is a prevalence of informal and casual work. Earnings are low and insecure. There is limited coverage and enforcement of labour laws and unclear employment relationships. All of these factors perpetuate vulnerability, poverty and low productivity in rural areas. The International Labour Organization (ILO) identifies agriculture as one of the most hazardous sectors in the world, with agricultural workers being twice as likely to suffer fatal accidents than workers in other sectors. Child labour in agriculture, which accounts for 60 percent of child labour, perpetuates a cycle of poverty for the children, their families and communities. Rural employment is also marked by gender inequalities. Women are less likely than men to engage in wage employment and, even when they do, they are more likely to hold part-time, seasonal and/or low-paying jobs in the informal economy (FAO, 2012). Despite considerable increases in productivity in agriculture, similar progress has not been made in increasing social equity. Agricultural work continues to be linked with poverty, hazardous labour conditions and insecurity.

However, in making the shift to climate-smart agriculture, there is enormous potential to improve rural livelihoods. Climate change adaptation and mitigation in agriculture can not only make existing jobs more stable and productive, but can also generate opportunities for new sustainable, decent jobs in rural areas. 

What is decent rural employment?

FAO defines decent rural employment (DRE) as decent work in agricultural sectors and rural areas that provides a living income and reasonable working conditions. In line with ILO definition of decent worki, DRE is an approach and an aim to provide more and better employment opportunities to rural populations. It focuses on the fact that over three quarters of the world’s poor lie in rural areas, with many of them depending on agriculture to make a living. 

Examples of DRE include a wide range of safe and productive work. DRE can be found in rural enterprises hiring agricultural workers and providing them with adequate health and safety gears, guaranteeing their working rights, and paying decent wages; in youths who are self-employed in innovative small businesses and start-ups that enhance efficiency along the agricultural value chains, etc.

Source: FAO 2015 Understanding Decent Rural Employment: Factsheet.

What are green jobs?

According to the ILO definition (ILO, 2016), jobs are green when they help reduce environmental degradation, and ultimately lead to environmentally, economically and socially sustainable enterprises and economies. 

Green jobs are decent jobs that:

  • reduce consumption of energy and raw materials; 
  • limit greenhouse gas emissions; 
  • support adaptation to the effects of climate change;
  • minimize waste and pollution;  and
  • protect and restore ecosystems.

C7 - 5.2. The potential of agriculture for green employment creation

The ILO estimates that the green economy can create up to 60 million additional jobs (ILO, 2012), with net employment gains higher in developing countries. For example, in 2015, 8.1 million jobs were created in the renewable energy sector (IRENA, 2016). To harness the employment potential of the green economy, it will be essential to work on supporting countries in formulating policies, strategies and programmes that increase the opportunities for the rural poor, in particular for young people (aged 15-24) and women to access decent green jobs. These kinds of national and regional interventions, which are in examined in module C3, should focus on enhancing, upgrading and developing skills and capabilities in ways that will allow the rural poor to adapt to a greener labour market. In this regard, a system-wide capacity development approach, which is dealt with in module C1, will play a fundamental role. Strategies to achieve sustainable growth and decent work in agriculture should take into account national circumstances and priorities. At the global level, green job creation will simultaneously reinforce several of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG8 on Promoting Sustained, Inclusive and Sustainable Economic Growth, Full and Productive Employment and Decent Work for All, and SDG13 on Taking Urgent Action to Combat Climate Change and its Impacts

Boosting green job opportunities in the agriculture sectors can respond to the triple challenge of conserving and protecting the environment through better management of natural resources; adapting to climate change through the provision of rural employment; and reducing greenhouse gas emissions through improved land, water, crop, livestock and manure management. Labour markets can undergo various transformations in the transition to a green economy. These transformations can result in the creation of additional jobs; job substitution; the elimination of jobs without replacing them; and the transformation of current jobs as skills and work methods become 'green' (UNEP, 2011).

The green economy has considerable potential to create employment for young women and men if the right skills development and investments are put in place. Currently, there is youth unemployment crisis. One of the consequences of this crisis is the outmigration of young people from rural areas, which is leading to the ageing of agricultural communities. If properly targeted, youth can become catalysts for the transformation that is needed to make agriculture sustainable and improve rural livelihoods in developing countries. For this to happen, age and gender must be taken into consideration when crafting responses and decent work principles need to be integrated into green job interventions at the policy level. A gender-responsive approach for climate-smart agriculture is addressed in module C6. Meeting the demand for youth employment in the green economy requires innovative, appropriate and affordable technologies, skills development and training, and policy support.

Some of the potential areas where green jobs could be created in agriculture include (FAO, 2012):

  • conservation agriculture, integrated pest management and sustainable mechanization, which are knowledge-intensive practices that require an understanding of ecological processes, biodiversity and crop combinations and sequencing adapted to local conditions (see module B1 on crop production); 
  • certification and branding for sustainable produce, which includes the labelling of sustainably and organically produced food; 
  • improvements in post-harvest storage and handling practices, transport infrastructure, and smallholder farmers’ access to local, urban and regional markets;
  • ecotourism for financing biodiversity protection; 
  • climate-smart livestock management (see module B2  on livestock production); 
  • climate-smart fisheries and aquaculture (see module B4 on fisheries and aquaculture); 
  • integrated production systems and bioenergy production used for cooking, process heating, and mechanical and electric power generation (see module B5).

Box C7.3 Zambia Green Jobs Programme 2013 - 2017

The Zambia Green Jobs Programme, is a partnership between the government of Zambia and United Nations agencies, including FAO, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the International Trade Centre (ITC) and the ILO, the lead agency. The programme works to promote more and better jobs for inclusive and green growth, and improve livelihoods for rural and urban households. It does this by supporting sustainable micro-, small- and medium- sized enterprises throughout the building construction value chain. It focuses on creating new green jobs and improving the quality of existing jobs by extending social protection and improving access to occupational safety and health services for workers in the construction sector. The Programme has created 2 889 decent and green jobs. Another 2 910 jobs have been upgraded with better working conditions that include higher incomes, written and signed employment contracts, access to social protection and health insurance schemes, provisions for occupational safety and health, freedom of association, increased rights at work and social  dialogue. The Programme has reached over 14 000 people with direct messaging advocating for green business practices.

Source: Zambia Green Jobs Programme

Youth and gender-sensitive green jobs

Unemployed and unskilled rural youth represent a disadvantaged group on the labour market. They will need targeted assistance during the transition to a green economy. The majority of rural youth are employed in the informal economy. They generally contribute to family businesses, work as subsistence farmers, engage in home-based micro-entrepreneurs or labour in unskilled jobs. They typically earn low wages, are employed under casual or seasonal work arrangements and face unsafe, often exploitive working conditions. Their work situation compels many young people to migrate to urban areas. By 2050 the number of young people aged 15 to 24 is expected to increase and will account for almost 14 percent of the projected global population. Most of these young people will live in developing countries in Africa and Asia. In 2013, 286 million young people lived in working poverty (i.e. living below USD 4 per day) (ILO, 2015b). The challenges many of these young women and men face are daunting. Under education and the lack of adequate skills in young people remains a major concern, and represents an important barrier to transformative growth. Young people also face significant obstacles in gaining access to land, credit and markets. They often do not have the resources to acquire or lease land, or may be limited in this area by inheritance laws and customs. Young people's inadequate access to credit, financial services and markets, as well as their limited involvement in social and policy dialogue further hinder their ability to realize their full potential and contribute to economic development.

Young rural people are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, since they do not have adaptation and mitigation strategies of their own and have limited access to broader climate-smart programmes. Since young people in rural areas often cannot afford vocational training or tertiary education programmes, they are more likely to be laid off or excluded as society makes the transition to a green economy. Most young people are doubly vulnerable, in that they live in areas where the economy depends on agriculture sectors (and other sectors) that rely on natural resources and where endemic poverty persists (UNDP, 2013). The green economy can provide employment opportunities, but green investments in areas, such as organic farming, agritourism, certification and branding processes for organic and sustainable produce, and farm-to-market food systems, need to be specifically targeted to the youth. It is essential for young people entering the labour market in the green economy to upgrade their skills and knowledge and develop new ones. According to the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training the transition to a green, low-carbon economy can affect skills in different ways: some skills may become redundant, as the demand for some jobs goes down; some skills will become more widely acquired, as the demand for other jobs increases; and new skills will need to required, as new jobs are created and existing jobs become 'green' (OECD, 2014). 

To give young people the skills they need to participate fully in sustainable economic development, FAO has designed and implemented the Junior Farmer Field and Life Schools (JFFLS) methodology. It is an innovative capacity development approach that trains vulnerable rural youth in the agricultural, entrepreneurial and life skills they need to earn a decent living, and become more productive and active members of their communities. Guided by a facilitator, JFFLS participants learn about agriculture and business in connection with more general life lessons and skills. A climate change module has been integrated into the JFFLS curriculum that deals with sustainable practices in agriculture and green jobs. The module provides JFFLS facilitators with the information they need to stimulate young people's participation in discussions about climate change, particularly its impacts on agriculture and the actions that agricultural producers can undertake to reduce their vulnerability to it (Box C7.4). The role of rural advisory services and farmer field schools are addressed in module C2.

As climate change is expected to magnify existing patterns of gender inequality (UNDP, 2007/2008), the issue of gender will also need to be considered carefully if improvements are to made in decent working conditions in the agricultural sectors (Box C7.4 describes a green job initiative in Jordan that includes women). Women’s capacity to engage in green jobs may be limited by their already restricted access to training, skills development and modern technologies.  Women are also discriminated against based on their age and lower socio-economic status. This is particularly true for impoverished rural women.

Box C7.4  FAO project on renewable energy production in Jordan

An example of a project focused on green employment creation, with a gender component is a programme implemented by FAO in Jordan: Improving rural livelihoods and the environment through the integral utilization of residues of treated wastewater and organic solid waste for the production of renewable energy and compost in Mafraq Governorate (2016-2018). There has been a large inflow of refugees into Jordan, which has had a significant political, economic and social impact. The FAO-implemented programme aims to enhance the growth potential of the local economy in the Mafraq Governorate and particularly in the Zaatari municipality. The Programme is an innovative intervention that promotes the development of private sector enterprises and stimulates the creation of decent, green jobs in an environmentally sustainable manner. This will be achieved by generating renewable energy through the adoption of labour-intensive processes related to sustainable 'waste-to-energy' (generating electricity or heat through the treatment of wastes)  and 'waste to compost' (converting organic materials from waste to agriculturally beneficial composts) activities. This creates a 'a triple win' situation, in that it reduces greenhouse gas emissions, lowers the costs of solid and liquid waste disposal in Zaatari municipality and Zaatari refugee camp, and generates opportunities for green jobs. Green jobs are created through the construction and operation of a solid waste segregation unit in Zaatari Municipality. Over a two-year period, the target is to ensure that 20 percent of the decent jobs created at the solid waste separation site will be filled by women (as per ILO standards). The project will promote female employment, which is currently very low in comparable forms of employment in the Governorate. The projects’ final beneficiaries will be the population of the host communities in the Mafraq Governorate, but also Syrian refugees in Zaatari camp. They will benefit from improved livelihoods, the reduction of greenhouse gases emissions and reduced risks of groundwater contamination. Agriculture producers, particularly pastoralists will also benefit through restored and improved fertility of the rangelands.



iWork that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men. (