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Between now and 2030, about 1.6 billion people will reach working age in low and middle income countries. Together with sustaining and improving the quality of self and wage employment of the billions of people already working, creating new jobs to absorb those reaching working age will be a significant challenge. All sectors need to contribute, including the food system, particularly given its large relative size in many countries, and that it accounts for a significant share of jobs in all countries. The food system comprises more than just primary agricultural production. It includes food storage, processing, distribution, transport, associated logistics, retailing, preparation, restaurants, promotion, and other services that together include many enterprises and a relatively large share of jobs in the manufacturing and services industries in many countries. The farming (or agriculture) share of total employment still dominates in many countries, accounting for about 60 percent of total employment in Sub-Saharan Africa, and almost 70 percent of total employment in low-income countries globally.  Inclusive of employment in the broader food system, these shares would be larger. For example, in Malawi and Tanzania, food and beverages account for more than 40 percent of total manufacturing employment. Even in some high-income countries such as New Zealand, the food and beverage share of manufacturing employment is more than 35 percent, driven primarily by exports. In the European Union, the food and beverages industry provides a larger share of employment than other manufacturing sectors, it provided more stable employment during the financial crisis, and has a higher share of women employed than overall manufacturing. Increasing the number and inclusiveness of jobs in the food system will require attention to food system growth, employment intensity, and inclusion of youth and women. Food system growth: Food demand is projected to grow by about 25 percent in developing countries over the next 15 years, with demand growing in Sub-Saharan African by 55 percent. With changing diets as per capita incomes increase, non-cereal food demand, and the associated jobs, is projected to grow faster than demand for cereals, and food services and manufacturing will also expand more rapidly than farming, although from a fairly low base in many countries. With urbanization, food demand growth will be more rapid in urban areas than rural areas. These trends offer new opportunities for jobs in non-cereal, higher value, production, and in off-farm food manufacturing and services. Key action areas for promoting growth in food value chains in response to consumer demand include: raising agricultural productivity; investing in complementary infrastructure; improving the rural investment climate and trade; promoting competition, private sector participation, and entrepreneurship; and upgrading skills. Employment intensity: Employment intensity varies across different stages of the food value chain. In addition, mechanization and automation, while raising incomes per job, reduce the number of jobs per unit of output. There is ongoing debate on the extent and speed at which machines and automation will displace jobs in low- and middle-income countries during the next 15 years, and the role of policy. Polices need to ensure that they don’t undermine employment intensity relative to long-term trends. Key action areas include: in response to shifting demand, promote high-value agriculture that often has higher employment intensities than cereal production; open trade to different types of machinery imports and crowd in private sector provision of mechanized services, and avoid policies that artificially make machinery cheap relative to labor (such as credit/tax policies, and labor movement restrictions). Inclusion of women and youth: Inclusion of youth and women into food system labor markets will be paramount for equity and social stability. The population below the age of 24 accounts for the largest share of the population in almost all countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, but also in many countries in South Asia, East Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East and North Africa. Yet youth aged 15 to 24 years old are two to three times more likely than adults to be unemployed. Youth can bring energy, entrepreneurial talent, and innovative ideas that can help raise growth and incomes. However, if a large share of youth cannot find jobs and earn satisfactory incomes, they may become a source of social tension. Key actions to facilitate inclusion of women and youth include: developing their skills and facilitating job matching, improving their access to land, increasing their access to affordable finance, and improving their inclusion in policy dialogue and program design. The world has set ambitious Sustainable Development Goals. Jobs provide the incomes needed to end poverty and improve shared prosperity. Slowing global growth, concerns about automation, and inequality of incomes and opportunities are adding urgency and attention to the jobs agenda. The food system can play a critical role. Indeed, it is the largest employer in many countries, and improved incomes in the food system can have significant poverty-reducing effects. The agenda is large and will require prioritization within countries, and partnerships to implement. Ministries of agriculture need to play a more prominent role in shaping the broader public policies and investments related to food system jobs. The process requires engaging with the private sector as the key provider of jobs. Development partners need coordinated and multi-sectoral efforts around countries programs. Together we can help enhance the food systems contribution to jobs. About the author: Juergen Voegele is Senior Director, Agriculture Global Practice at The World Bank Group.  

The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.