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Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)

A Holistic Approach to Deal with Child Labour in Food Systems


Child Labour has been observed in every sub-system of some food systems, especially those in less affluent countries. These include food production, harvesting, transport, preservation and selling sub-systems. Meanwhile, the highest percentage of child labour seems to be in the food production or the agriculture sector. This contribution suggests a holistic means of addressing this problem.

The first difficulty one encounters here has two logically inseparable dimensions. First, in what politico-geographic area it would be feasible to undertake the proposed action, and secondly, would it be possible to carry it out there with success? Everybody may agree that the answer to the first question is world-wide, but as there is no global politico-legal authority, pragmatic necessity requires one to address the challenge on a nation by nation basis.

Even though the national authorities may not be sufficiently efficient or even indifferent to the present challenge, apart from them, there does not seem to exist any other agency with enough authority to ensure the type of coordinated appropriate action needed to resolve the present problem. One’s next task is to determine what those actions are, which calls for the identification of the causes of child labour in a food system.

Until fairly recent times in human history, whole families laboured day long to procure food, therefore, its current unacceptability reflects a slow evolution of social values in a very uneven way throughout the world. Those who are interested in the matter are kindly referred to the discussion indicated by the link at the end of this contribution. In their historical order of appearance, causes of child labour in food systems may be described thus:

  • Labour-intensiveness of hunting and gathering that compelled families and small communities to engage in food procurement.
  • Emergence of crop cultivation and pastoralism which required the participation of the whole family.
  • Invention of division of labour and barter system that eventually evolved into modern competitive economy that is motivated by institutionalised personal gain as a social value.
  • The consequences of the above development not being evenly distributed throughout the world which will be discussed below.

The post-industrial social development more or less justifiably recognised that it is incumbent upon the national authorities to enable the people of a country to enjoy a life of adequate quality. The possibility of their doing so, depends on their ability to adequately satisfy their six fundamental needs. While the failure to meet the first three of them may be fatal, the remaining three are important in distinguishing man from an instinct-driven brute:

  1. Nutrition
  2. Good health
  3. Security in its justifiable sense; it includes security from the inclemencies of the weather (housing and clothing), physical danger from animals, other people (lack of law and order, war, etc.), threat to personal belongings, various forms of discrimination etc.
  4. Education in its justifiable sense, i.e., enabling an individual to develop one’s innate abilities and skills which one may use to meet one’s fundamental needs.
  5. Procreation; education enabling one to understand that the equilibrium between the living species and the ecosystems services on which their existence depends, demands the qualitative and quantitative biodiversity among them. This quantitative dimension imposes a limit on the number of individuals of every living species with no exceptions. Hence, procreation ought to be guided by family planning.
  6. The set of non-material goals; so called because their achievement does not result in a material gain. For Example, aesthetic enjoyment, engaging in games and sports for pleasure, entertainment of varying quality.

Evolution of the human intellectual and practical skills resulted in an enhancement in social values. However, neither of these developments were evenly distributed throughout the globe. For better or for worse, some of those values like competitive economy driven by the desire for personal gain and its adaptation have become universal. Consequently in most countries, satisfaction of man’s fundamental needs seem to require having a sufficient income.

Even among the farmers and pastoralists, the possibility of procuring a wholesome and balanced diet seem to require buying some food items they cannot produce. Meanwhile, the current competitive economy increasingly permeates the food systems of even the less affluent countries. Thus, it is self-evident that the need for an adequate income to meet one’s fundamental needs has reached a critical state in many areas of such countries forcing children into labour in order to ameliorate family earnings. The highest incidence of child labour has been observed in such areas.

Before competitive economy reached its modern level, emerging social values recognised that the child labour as practised in the olden days is deleterious to the quality of children’s life. Leaving aside the emotions child labour may evoke, this new social value arises from the following considerations:

  • Other things being equal, it deprives children of  the time and energy needed to fully develop their innate abilities into useful knowledge and skills through appropriate education.
  • It may be injurious to their health or may adversely affect their normal development.
  • Unscrupulous adults may force them into criminal activities which may cripple their physical and mental development as well as health.

To sum up then, there seems to be a universal need for an income to satisfy man’s six fundamental needs; satisfaction of each of these became more and more dependent on the prior satisfaction of secondary needs they subsume. For instance, a city dweller may have to go to a shop, purchase the food needed, etc., before it may be cooked at eaten. Those secondary needs like going to and from a shop may require rail or motor transport. Socio-industrial development has resulted in an ever-growing number of such secondary needs.

In less affluent countries where the incidence of child labour is high, the degree of adequacy to which one’s fundamental needs are generally satisfied may be described thus:

   • Nutrition; general malnutrition or excessive intake of a principal nutrient like carbohydrates is prevalent. These result in reduced physical and cognitive development and in some instances, may be accompanied by some degree of obesity. This impairs one’s ability to acquire useful knowledge and skills. Moreover, it reduces one’s capacity to work, may cause deficiency diseases and makes one more susceptible to infectious diseases.

  • Good health; while dietary imbalance makes these populations more susceptible to ill health, they often lack even basic primary health care, especially in rural areas. This exacerbates their already reduced capacity to acquire relevant knowledge and skills, thus reducing even more their ability to earn an adequate income.
  • Security; inadequate law enforcement, political instability/illegalities, various forms of discrimination and in some instances, armed conflict may result in physical injury, loss of property, etc. Further, it may often disrupt food production and other services regardless of the provider.
  • Education; often what is available is very inadequate, inappropriate and irrelevant. The so-called standard ‘education’ is not tailored to individual’s inborn abilities, the local reality, nor yet to the dietary competence relevant to the locality. It seldom encourages the local children to acquire the relevant knowledge and skills needed to ensure local prosperity and to induce them to remain in their villages. Doing so would considerably reduce the migration of rural people to the cities and the resulting social problems.
  • Procreation; inadequacies in sex education and birth control have resulted in an alarming incidence of venereal diseases and high birth rates. Not only do these place a greater burden on the scarce means available to the rural populations to meet their fundamental needs, but the growing population imposes an ever-increasing burden on the already depleted ecosystems services. Unless countered immediately, these will continue to diminish their quality of life as their ability to meet those needs becomes less and less.
  • Non-material needs; while dissemination of information has informed the rural populations of what is available elsewhere, ever increasing cost of items needed to satisfy this need and inadequate literacy has barred the majority of rural populations from enjoying it. Some argue that this may be one of the causes of over-population in deprived areas in city and countryside. Be that as it may, this lack lowers one’s quality of life in today’s society.

The Question of Responsibility

The perceptive reader would have noticed the following causal sequence:

  • Evolution of social values has rejected child labour as unacceptable on secular ethical and pragmatic grounds.
  • Possessing an income has become a tertiary need necessary to meet a set of secondary needs whose prior satisfaction is essential to satisfy one’s six fundamental needs.
  • In a competitive economy motivated by institutionalised personal gain, losers are inevitable.
  • A national authority is necessary to uphold and promote the evolving social norms of a country.
  • Child labour is iniquitous; the national authority is responsible for social equity.
  • Nation-wide elimination of child labour requires a central coordinating body in order to ensure the following:
  1. Measures taken are appropriate to deal with the problem in the sub-system of the food system concerned. For instance, dealing with child waiters in towns and cities working for more than 16 hours a day cannot be usefully applied to those labouring in the fields.
  2. Extent of the problem may vary from place to place hence, appropriate allocation of scarce resources has to be centrally determined.
  3. Food and agriculture do not constitute an isolated domainit and other domains causally interact with each other. For example, if trade policy permits the import of a cheaper cereal, family farmers and other small holders of the country who cultivate it are likely to lose their income. Thus deprived, child labour may become a necessity for them to supplement their meagre income. Ensuring that the components of a national policy set do not promote child labour is incumbent upon the government.
  4. Inappropriate actions in agriculture initiated or sanctioned by a national authority may promote child labour as a last resort. For instance, allowing the purchase of family farms and small holdings to create factory farms or large monoculture units would result in unemployment for their previous owners and its consequences. An industrial policy that recommends automation in a country with high unemployment would exacerbate the situation.
  5. A careful examination of the other domains would show that there are many inadvisable undertakings that could easily jeopardise the livelihood of people engaged in any one of them or in any other.
  6. Therefore, it would be reasonable to suggest that the national authorities ought to be entrusted with the task of coordinated action necessary to deal with child labour appropriate to the conditions obtaining in a country.
  7. As less affluent countries display the highest incidence of child labour, national authorities may need appropriate assistance from regional and world-wide organisations.

Towards a Way Forward

The final challenge one faces here is how a national government may legitimately direct appropriate action to deal with child labour. The self-evident answer is by the implementation of appropriate set of policies designed to ensure that it excludes those undertakings that would or could bring about child labour in the country in general and in food systems in particular. Design and implementation of such a policy set represents a holistic approach to the resolution of the problem.

It has been mentioned earlier that inappropriate undertakings in any domain may lead to child labour in it or in some other. It would be generally agreed that closing food systems to child labour may be insufficient, for it might easily overflow into some other domain with even more disastrous results for the children involved. Hence, it is vital to ensure that the present approach is holistic i.e., inclusive of all domains that may potentially trigger child labour. Thus, the present suggestion is both remedial and pro-active.

Before proceeding any further, it is necessary to identify what makes the required policy set suitable for the purpose. First, each policy in it ought to be relevant as a means of resolving a given problem. Secondly, every one of them ought to be appropriate as a means to be used under the existing conditions of the country concerned i.e., it ought to be a pragmatic solution.

The importance of relevance in policies is often overlooked with disastrous results for the people. It can be easily determined by asking the question “does it contribute to the quality of life of the majority in real life?” It may be remembered that one’s quality of life depends on the facility with which one may satisfy one’s six fundamental needs. An industrial policy that promotes rapid automation resulting in unemployment could hardly be called a contributor to the quality of life of the majority.

This should not be construed as an attack on new technology, rather as a recommendation to be gradual in making use of new methods in order to avoid the human misery consequent to redundancy which has been seen in affluent countries. In less affluent ones, this may bring about catastrophic results including child labour. Thus, relevance of a national policy set is determined relative to its contribution to the quality of life of the majority.

This implies that policy relevance can never be justifiably ascertained with respect to national GDP or in any other monetary indicator, for money is a tertiary need required to meet a number of secondary needs whose satisfaction is a prior condition for meeting man’s six fundamental needs. Although necessary owing to man’s socio-technological advances, using income as a measure of quality of life is akin to using the value of a bus ticket as an indicator of how balanced is the meal one bought at the shop near the end of a bus trip to make one’s purchases.

It has been emphasised that the socio-ethics and social complexity demand that children should have the required time and support to acquire appropriate knowledge and skills as well as to satisfy the other fundamental needs as applicable to them. As child labour is a grave obstacle to this, it seriously lowers their present and future quality of life. Hence, a holistic and a relevant policy set is essential to resolve this problem. When a national policy set as a whole displays this quality, it embodies an inter-policy harmony, for each  of its elements strives towards an enhanced quality of life of the people.

Appropriateness of a policy is a matter internal to it. It is indicated by the suitability of the means used in its implementation. When such means may be deemed suitable with respect to the actual conditions existing in a country, a policy embodies an intra-policy harmony with respect to the goal it is intended to attain. Therefore, inter-policy harmony in a policy set entails an intra-policy harmony in all its components.

A national policy may have four different degrees of success depending on the level of intra- and inter-policy harmony in and among its constituents. Some examples may help to clarify this point. First, the success of an appropriate and an inappropriate food and agriculture policy will be ascertained after their separate introduction into a policy ambience where inter-policy harmony already exists. Next, the success of the same food and agriculture policies in a policy ambience that lacks inter-policy harmony will be discussed.

In the first case, a relevant food and agriculture policy is appropriately implemented while all the other national policies do likewise in their own domains. Although not exhaustive, its implementation embodies the following features:

  • It does not cause unemployment  in its domain or in any other.
  • It creates employment opportunities in the food systems it includes and in other domains which would only require training that is within the actual capabilities of the people concerned.
  • It takes into account the know-how and material resources at the disposal of the people concerned.
  • It has no adverse effects on the environment; it strives to promote environmental regeneration and the local food culture.
  • It enables those who work a food system to earn a decent income.
  • It actively contributes to the elimination of child labour by making it unnecessary.

In the second case, while rest of the national policies are appropriately trying to enhance the national quality of life, the food and agriculture policy will be doing the opposite owing to the inappropriateness of one or more of its implementation strategies some of which are listed below:

  • Rapid mechanisation of agriculture and fisheries when the country has a high rate of unemployment; in such countries, farmers and fishermen usually do not earn a decent income and child-labour obtains in agriculture and in other parts of the food system, for example, child waiters. It would lead to additional unemployment thus exacerbating the problem.
  • Inappropriate introduction of high-yield foreign cultivars that require continuous supplementation services viz., fertilisers, biocides and irrigation. Consider the miseries that followed the ‘Green Revolution’ in Mexico and Pakistan as well as the Aral Sea disaster. Briefly put, both resulted in a rapid population increase followed by soil erosion and salination which rendered the land barren leaving the grown-ups and children penurious.
  • Uncritical promotion of the selling sub-system of a food system; this is purported to be in response to ‘market forces’, a phenomenon hitherto unknown to physics. Competitive selling cannot avoid some who will be left with unsold produce or getting a pittance in return, not to mention wilted or spoiled food. This reductive and unfair strategy will hardly help one to rid the sector of child labour.
  • Inappropriate implementation strategies make the above food and agriculture policy oppose the common policy goal of enhanced quality of life which includes the abscence of child labour. Hence, not only does it lack intra-policy harmony and and achieves little success, but it does also disturb the harmony in the policy ambience into which it has been introduced which would lessen their effectiveness.

In the third possible case, a relevant food and agriculture policy embodying intra-policy harmony is introduced into a policy ambience that lacks inter-policy harmony. Here, the former may use the the appropriate strategies having the attributes described in the first example case above as well as other apt ones. However, the inter-policy disharmony in its policy ambience would not only hinder its ability to satisfy the nutritional needs of a country adequately, but it would also obstruct its efforts to deal with child labour. Some examples of how this may happen in a country are given below:

  • A finance policy that allocates an undue portion of the national revenue to industry and defence while insufficient resources are allocated to agriculture, health care and education. Obviously, this would make it impossible to develop an adequate and fair food system.
  • A legal policy that neither guarantees the cultivator’s land tenure nor preserves and protects the commons (land owned by original inhabitants or state owned land) nor enforces such provisions when they exist. The deleterious effects of these inadequacies on agriculture are self-evident.
  • A trade and industry policy that may permit and encourage the following:
  1. Purchase and use of good farmland by extraction trade or industry.
  2. Uncontrolled logging that greatly diminishes ecosystems services, silting of water ways etc.
  3. Changing the cultivation of food crops into that of cash crops or the export of the former for industrial use or as suggested by external experts (eg. West African pea nut export) resulting in child malnutrition.
  4. Allowing the import and promotion of cheap foreign comestibles which tends to deprecate and displace the local food culture.
  5. Permitting the establishment of large-scale monoculture farms and fleets of trawlers to displace local family farms, small holders and fishermen. This is generally accompanied by permission to established ‘legally’ hidden  sales monopolies i.e., sets of ‘different’ chains owned by some holding company. This makes choice of food in affluent countries a joke in very poor taste and it is making rapid inroads into less affluent ones.
  6. Introduction of automation when the unemployment rate is high. This list is not exhaustive;  some of the consequences of each item here is given below in its corresponding Roman numeral:
  1. When farmland is thus reduced, food production would diminish thereby further lowering farmers’ income which in turn will encourage child labour.
  2. Silting of water ways and ground water level would render neighbouring farmland semi-arid; its adverse influence on local weather conditions would have similar consequences as outlined in I above.
  3. This may enhance personal income in some areas, but it would cause a reverse dependency by forcing people to import food whose quality is indeterminate. Meanwhile, cash crops require a great deal of supplementation which is known to have adverse effects on the soil and the environment. Unless it is ensured in advance that Export of food for cash would not be deleterious to local nutrition, children are among the first to suffer malnutrition as the West African example illustrates.
  4. As a rule, such comestibles are ready-made solid or liquid items whose long-term effect on human health remains to be determined by an independent authority. Their skilled promotion has already displaced many items from several local food cultures. Usually, this is followed by introduction of foreign cultivars, abandonment of agricultural villages as in Southern Angola or industrial use of farmland. None of these would promote child welfare nor environmental sustainability.
  5. It must be noted that in this example, a sound food and agriculture policy is in an ambience where one or more other policies are unsound. Here trade and industry policy share that defect with that on the environment. It results in environmental degradation and as a capital-intensive practise, it would bring about large-scale unemployment among family farmers, small holders, etc. How this may affect their children needs no elaboration.
  6. In less affluent countries, this would have serious social consequences as it could only boost the numbers of the unemployed. Some parts of a food system like sorting and packing can be automated, which would drive out of work the people employed there. Then the plight of their children would be even worse than what it had been before.

In the last case, a food and agriculture policy displaying intra-policy disharmony is introduced into a national policy set where inter-policy harmony does not obtain. In the second case discussed, some attributes of the former have been already outlined while the third case describes some features of a few other policies which imparts inter-policy disharmony into a policy ambience. Here one may expect the worst possible result. Therefore, the optimal approach to address child labour requires a sound food and agriculture policy in an ambience which embodies inter-policy harmony.

The Way Forward

It would be generally agreed that child labour at the expense of time required for children’s education, games, sports, aesthetic activities, and which may compromise their safety, security and health would be unacceptable in any area. However, a food system contains some essential sub-systems which belong to domains other than agriculture. Sorting and packing form two sub-systems of some selling sub-systems. Likewise, child waiters, crockery and cutlery washers not an uncommon site in many a non affluent country.

Parental poverty is often cited as a cause of child labour. Sometimes, the former is attributed to the tenuousness of farmers’ land tenure. Surely, one needs to resort to the judiciary domain to remedy this difficulty. Therefore it seems impossible not to involve the other relevant domains for a successful solution to the current problem. A few suggestions on how those domains may participate are outlined in the discussion which the link below indicates:

Before one describes a food and agriculture policy whose adequate implementation would bring about the elimination of child labour from the food systems involved, it is necessary to map out what changes in their sub-systems would be necessary to achieve this objective. Such changes would naturally vary from country to country as well as from central to regional and local levels.

In order of their causal importance, child labour in a food system arises from the following:

  • Inadequate parental income owing to unemployment or meagre income.
  • Lack of opportunities; this in itself is often a marginal cause, for it is often accompanied by parental poverty and governmental failure to provide essential services like education, health care, etc.
  • In some instances, it results from following a local tradition dealing with which may require the diplomatic instruction of the parents even when other facilities exist.

An appropriate food and agriculture policy is intended to enable a country’s population to procure a varied and a balanced diet in a sustainable way. But vast majority of the people including producers of comestibles need to purchase some of their food. Meanwhile, everybody needs to buy a number of other necessities in order to satisfy one’s remaining fundamental needs.

The question then, is two fold. How to enable the adults manning a food system earn an adequate income so that their children will not have to work? Next, what  could those children then do, or to put it differently, what facilities should be provided for them? Meanwhile it should be borne in mind that  an appropriate food and agriculture policy ensures adequate nutrition to the people. Here, an unwary planner is likely to run into some practical difficulties and inter-institutional conflicts.

The present approach attempts to avoid this difficulty through a twin strategy viz. By distinguishing between the justifiable purpose of a food system and other domains whose contribution is an necessary adjunct to deal with child labour in food systems. Suggestions that follow will reflect this distinction, for it first outlines changes needed in food systems then by adjunctive measures required in other domains which are in Roman numerals.

As a sufficient parental income is essential to resolve the problem, it would be appropriate to begin with the selling sub-system. It includes vending of ready-to-eat food or food in any other stage of preparation. In order to bring about financial equity to the adult workers of a food system, one needs to ensure that a major portion of the gains it makes are shared by those who actually produce food. A selling sub-system is a doubled exchange i.e., food producers selling their produce to vendors and the latter re-selling it indirectly (through retailers, etc.) or directly to the end-users.

Changes needed in a selling sub-system:

  • Formation of farmer/fisherman cooperatives to sell at a reasonable price their produce to vendors who operate on a similar basis. It is desirable that members of their families or fellow villagers form such vending units from whom the end-users may purchase food at fair prices.
  • Establishment of cooperative food shops for the above purpose as well as similar or family-run restaurants in near-by towns/cities where wholesome meals are offered at fair prices.

Adjunctive measures:

  • Legal devolution of the selling sub-system; this calls for the abolition of wholesale and retail monopolies.
  • Legal ban on state financial support to such entities.
  • A total ban on the speculation in commodity futures; although some of the items involved here are neither food nor drink (eg. Fibres like cotton, jute etc.) their cultivators are often impoverished by this practice.
  • Prevention of conversion of food crops into cash crops when it reduces a nation’s ability to meet its nutritional needs.
  • Imposition of effective restrictions on the promotion of mass-produced ready-to-eat food.
  • Changes in financial policy required to set up and operate banks tailored to meet the needs of food systems run on a cooperative basis.
  • Actively enforced legal measures to prevent price wars by ‘competitive traders’ in order to undercut the sales of the cooperatives.
  • A defence policy that requires significant cuts in defence budget.
  • Investment in primary health care, public health, sanitation and water purification available throughout food systems.

Transport and storage sub-systems:

  • Establishment of cooperatively owned storage facilities at strategic locations so that fresh food may be quickly available to the vendors above.
  • Use of the most energy-efficient transport such as water or rail as deemed fit. It is best that workers of a local/regional  food system establish and operate both sub-systems on a cooperative basis. While they may cooperate with other such bodies, their amalgamation is deprecated, for it would soon result in bureaucrat overload, inefficiency and loss of income to the food producers.
  • If necessary, such a unit may purchase and run its short-haul vehicles.

Adjunctive measures:

  • An effectively enforced legal requirement to establish, repair or extend water and rail transport.
  • A effective finance policy that would undertake to fund such transport systems .
  • Facilities to obtain a technical education required to design, build and operate appropriate types of storage units.
  • Help to purchase and operate suitable short-haul transport vehicles by such units.

Preservation sub-system:

  • Food preserving cooperatives should be established at strategic locations as close as possible to the greatest number of food producing areas. Methods used in them should be appropriate and may include drying, smoking, salting, conserving or conversion into other dietary products. These will be transported to and stored in previously described units until needed or dispatched for sale to a cooperative selling outlet.

Adjunctive measures:

  • A pro-active finance policy that support banks which help people to establish such units.
  • An education policy that actively sets up technical training units in the field to instruct the members of food preserving cooperatives.
  • Effectively enforced legal means to prevent price wars in the purchase of farm produce and fish by traders outside a cooperative food system.

Yielder sub-system:

  • Use of local crops and animals or their improved strains that can tolerate local conditions and thrive on the ecosystems services available there. This will minimise the need for fertilisers, biocides, etc.
  • Formation of farm, gatherer (harvesting forest products) and fishermen’s cooperatives from which produce is passed onto the other sub-systems of a cooperative food system. This will ensure a decent income to them while end-users benefit from wholesome food at a fair price not inflated by high profits made by a host of intermediaries.
  • Establishment of shared equipment pools, repair and maintenance facilities owned and run by the cooperative involved.
  • Establishment of common purchasing mechanism that will be used by a cooperative to procure the equipment, tools and other materials it requires. This would considerably reduce the individual outlay for them.
  • Promotion of mixed cultivation of suitable species.
  • Organisation and financing of appropriate local work-shops for workers in various sub-systems of the national food systems. These ought to be teaching sessions as well as fora for discussing common problems.
  • Children already working in some part of a food system ought to be provided a suitable vocational training which may include elements of basic education at the appropriate level. It may be desirable to offer them board and lodging or an allowance during the training period.
  • Leading the activities needed to coordinate and harmonise the adjunctive policies between food and agriculture and the other domains.

Adjunctive measures:

  • Other things being equal, a sustainable decent income for the target group requires a sustained availability of adequate ecosystems services; these include a salubrious climate, sufficient water, soil fertility, animal food, presence of enough pollinators, natural pest control, etc. Ensuring these requires the effective implementation of a sound environment policy backed by suitable legal instruments. Such an implementation may include the required number of actions in the following non-exhaustive list:
  1. Family planning.
  2. Immediate halting of the destruction of forests; logging ought to be banned unless the same species is planted to replace it and the saplings survival checked at least for two years to prevent fraud which is quite common.
  3. A ban on the use of arable land by various industries.
  4. Carefully supervised re-forestation of land with indigenous species; such supervision needs to be continued at least for five years in order to ensure that such efforts are not mere transient cosmetic news items.
  5. A real national effort to cut down the emission of the so-called ‘green house’ gases; land and maritime regulations that empowers the authorities to impose severe punishment on those who engage in irresponsible disposal of plastics, toxic substances, etc. The effect on the environment by billions of bottles of carbonated beverages consumed daily, seems to have escaped attention.
  6. Technical research into roofing materials and exterior paints that will mimic the natural thermal exchange between the original green cover of an area and the atmosphere during daytime. In arid areas, the nearest green area may be used as a standard with a beneficial effect on the local climate.
  7. Planting of suitable local trees along the roads.
  • Unequivocal legal action to ensure land tenure of the actual cultivators and pastoralists, land ownership of an area by its present original inhabitants (especially forests and remote areas), protection of the local fishermen from intrusions by foreign fishermen.
  • Legal action to restrain and devolve ‘agro-industry’ at the production level.
  • Abolition of seed and animal breeding monopolies; their current sway in food production severely limits agricultural biodiversity making it extremely vulnerable to emerging pathogens. Moreover, the species they sell require intensive use of fertilisers and biocides which lowers soil fertility, kills pollinators, etc.
  • Trade and industry policy ought to be guided by the legal measures suggested here.
  • Education of the future food producers should pay greater attention to the local food culture and the vital importance of agriculture, relevance and appropriateness of the methods taught and culinary enjoyment. The last emphasises that man derives a personal and a social pleasure from meals, and one’s intake of food is not akin to filling a car with petrol wherein the number of calories in a meal is equated with that of litres of fuel put in the vehicle.
  • Public and school education ought to strive to increase people’s dietary competence i.e., knowing what to eat and enjoy, when and where to get it and how to prepare it for consumption. At the same time, it must explain the importance of nutrition, hence the value of those engaged in food production.
  • Health needs described earlier are of even greater relevance to this sub-system.
  • In countries where child labour obtains, government is often responsible for public communications; internal/home affairs ought to exert itself to establish and extend goods and public transport and telephone networks and an adequate postal service.

Although non-exhaustive, the foregoing strategies respectively in food and agriculture and adjunctive policies may be easily revised to suit the needs of an individual case. Rather than presenting a single strategy set for a food and agriculture policy, it has been distributed among the relevant elements of a food system in order to ensure the logical cohesion of the present proposal. The same applies to the requisite strategies in adjunctive domains.

It may be objected that in spite of its importance, security in its present sense has not been included among the adjunctive policies. There are two good reasons for this omission; a food and agriculture authorities are not competent to engage in diplomacy or use force which may be needed to resolve armed conflicts. Neither do they have a mechanism to legislate against other causes of insecurity nor enforce the resulting regulations.

The next challenge is to identify how the international, national and regional/local institutions may contribute to the implementation of the suggested strategies. This requires one to take into account its individual variations and limits of institutional jurisdiction:

  • International institutions; it will be noted that combating child labour in various sub-systems of a food system requires the intervention by diverse international bodies. However this seems to require two distinct steps.
  1. Effective coordination of the activities of all international organisations concerned with various elements of food systems. FAO seems to be eminently suited to guide and moderate this task.
  2. Harmonisation of the agreements, actions and guidelines of international institutions concerned with those sub-systems as indicated by the adjunctive strategies. It will require the involvement of FAO, ILO, WTO, etc. Such harmonisation may be carried out under the auspices of the UN.
  3. Achieving both objectives requires sincere and serious inter-institutional negociation.
  • National; the question here is how to bring about the requisite national policy harmony an appropriate implementation strategies needed to deal with child labour. Inter-departmental coordination of relevant and appropriate policies is essential for this purpose. During this process, particular attention ought to be paid to procure the necessary competence and funds. Food and agriculture authorities ought to ensure a continuous dialogue with those who are involved in the local food systems in order to design a relevant policy. Some of the measures that may be taken are listed below:
  1. Inter-departmental sessions with a view to policy harmonisation.
  2. A goal-directed dialogue between food and agriculture authorities and their international counterparts to procure the relevant competence and resources.
  3. Similar exchanges between the food and agriculture authorities and the national NGO’s in order to pool resources and harmonise their activities.
  4. If the authorities are not locally represented, immediate action should be taken to remedy this inadequacy.
  5. Open public consultations to ascertain the extent of the problem and appropriate practical solutions pertinent to different areas.
  6. Formulation of food and agriculture ought to be guided by the actual nutritional needs of the public and the real problems faced by those who work the food systems involved. This calls for a frank and open dialogue between the two groups.
  •  Regional/local; in areas where child labour is seen, the relevant official representation may be sketchy or even non-existent. In such cases, representatives of national food and agriculture authorities and the people of the area engaged in its food system ought to form working groups to address the problem. Otherwise, the local representatives of the authorities may perform that function. It is best the members of such groups are as representative as possible of every aspect of the local food system to avoid the bias vested interests would have on decision-making. Some of the most important tasks of such a group may include any of the following:
  1. A survey of the output of the area’s yielder sub-system (cereals, fruits, nuts, vegetables, milk, meat or fish) and what resources are needed to increase it.
  2. Formation of the producer cooperatives and common purchasing units and reparing facilities.
  3. Procurement of the necessary resources from the authorities, NGO’s and international organisations.
  4. Working groups should seek to establish locally owned cooperative storage and preservation facilities at strategic locations, i.e., within easy access to the maximum number of food producing areas.
  5. The above cooperatives should establish in suitable locations similar food shops and family-run restaurants or encourage and assist kindred local people to do so. Thus, every sub-system in a local food system can be turned into an interlinked cooperative enterprise. These can then be linked into a wider regional and eventually into a national undertaking.
  6. Working groups should organise meetings to discuss local problems and workshops to acquire a greater appropriate competence.
  7. Working groups should strive to establish suitable vocational training units for children already engaged in labour as pointed out earlier. If found suitable, international, national and local assistance should be sought to establish and operate them. Such facilities need not be elaborate and may also be used for the gatherings of working groups.

Concluding Remarks

One’s quality of life depends on the adequacy with which one’s nutritional needs are satisfied with culinary enjoyment. Greater complexity of how man may satisfy his fundamental needs has made an appropriate education an imperative necessity. Hence, child labour has emerged as a socially unacceptable state of affairs. Owing to the intricate logical relationship among man’s fundamental needs, addressing child-labour in agriculture necessaryily involves satisfying those needs as applicable to them.

The proposal attempts to outline such a solution and takes into account the importance of enhancing the parental income of the child victims of competitive economy and political turpitude. Stating the obvious, other things being equal, competition inevitably leaves behind losers. And where child labour is seen, other things are not equal. Therefore, the introduction of cooperative food systems is of crucial importance.

Although the nuts and bolts of how this proposal may be carried out are omitted, its adjustment to suit real conditions in a country is not difficult. Moreover, the value of the dialogue between various local groups and the authorities in policy formulation has been emphasised. Ample room has been left to diverse expertise to appropriately expand on the implementation details at various levels.

However, gaining the consent of various international and national institutions to act in unison to enhance the quality of people’s life poses an imposing difficulty. An unshakable belief in what each of them do is the ‘way’ and limited competence in undertaking holistic action remains the two most formidable problems to be overcome. Nothing short of wide-spread, clearly articulated public action would be effective in arousing the institutions from the lethargy into which centruries of reductive thought has lulled them.

What is often overlooked is that at the field level of every sub-system in a food system, there is a large body of expertise whose relevance and appropriateness has only been ascertained relative to two dangerously reductive criteria viz., newness and personal gain through competition.  Inadvisability of this approach has been stressed here, for it leads to results that promote child labour. Meanwhile, recent interest in family farms and small holdings seems to point food production in an environmentally and socially benign direction.

Best wishes!

Lal Manavado.