Viewpoint: The future of work in agri-food

Luc Christiaensen (World Bank), Zachariah Rutledge, J. Edward Taylor
Published in
Food Policy
Publication Date


Abstract: As countries develop, agriculture’s role as domestic employer declines. But the broader agri-food system also expands, and the scope for agriculture-related job creation shifts beyond the farm. Historically, technological revolutions have shaped, and have been shaped by, these dynamics. Today, a digital revolution is taking hold. In this process of structural transformation, societies evolve from having a surplus to a shortage of domestic farm labor, typically met by foreign agricultural wage workers. Yet anti-immigration sentiments are flying high in migrant-destination countries, and agricultural trade may be similarly challenged. Robots in the fields and packing plants offer an alternative to a diminishing labor supply. COVID-19 will reinforce trends of digitization and anti-globalization (including in food trade), while slowing economic growth and structural transformation. In the world’s poorest countries, particularly in Africa, labor productivity in agriculture remains at historically low levels. So, what role can the agri-food system play as a source of employment in the future? This viewpoint elaborates on these trends and reviews several policy options, including inclusive value chain development, better immigration policies, social insurance schemes, and ramp up in agricultural education and extension.

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