PESHAWAR: The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) launched a dialogue series Thursday to encourage discussion on key issues in Pakistan in solving food insecurity, malnutrition and rural poverty. The First Pakistan 2020 Dialogue Series is organized under the Food and Nutrition Security Impact, Resilience, Sustainability and Transformation (FIRST) Programme, a global partnership between the FAO and the European Union, says a press release.

The first webinar of the dialogue series presented comprehensive insights into agricultural labour issues in Sindh and Punjab, highlighting facts and challenges in ending child labour and uplifting rural youth towards a more secure future. Experts gave their perspective on the vexed issue of child labour in agriculture, and made recommendations on how to make headway on its elimination while striving to reach SDG2 targets.

The discussion drew upon some of the findings of a Policy Effectiveness analysis conducted by the FIRST Programme in Pakistan in 2018-19 in relation to food security, nutrition and sustainable agriculture policy environment. There are bottlenecks to implementation mechanisms of policies, and the necessary conditions to move forward include more strategic resource allocation and more effective approaches to building institutional capacity.

Haris Gazdar, Coordinator on Social Protection to the Chief Minister of Sindh, noted that an important piece of legislation concerning agriculture women workers had been passed in Sindh and represented one step towards fairer and less hazardous working conditions in the main agriculture crop sectors for women, whose ability to keep their children safe in the field situation has been compromised by unsafe practices and poor working conditions, particularly regarding pesticide use.

“What we want to see is a transition away from children missing out on school and starting burdensome, unhealthy work at a too young an age. We want to work towards a rural youth population with useful and safe experience in family farming complemented by a technology-savvy agriculture education and training, so that they can have better income and a more productive, healthier and secure future.” Minà Dowlatchahi, FAO Representative in Pakistan

“Hunger is a strong factor pushing families in rural areas to rely on their children’s work in food and agriculture production. Malnutrition is too often a consequence of children’s strenuous work, not adapted to their age and developing bodies and minds. Strengthening the nexus between food security and nutrition policies and child labour elimination is key,” said Ariane Genthon, Programme Officer, FAO Rome.

“Child labour in agriculture is just one of several issues to be addressed to help us reach the food security and nutrition targets in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. Reducing the practice of hazardous, underage working in the food system will also contribute towards the elimination of poverty and the promotion of decent work,” said Genevieve Hussain, Policy Officer, FAO.

Worldwide, close to 71 percent child labour is found in the agriculture sector. Child labour affects children’s education and is likely to harm their health, safety or morals. This perpetuates a cycle of poverty for the children involved, their families and communities. Without education, these boys and girls are likely to remain poor.

In Pakistan, FAO in close collaboration with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and with support from the European Union is implementing activities contributing towards the Clear Cotton Project. FAO is actively engaged towards raising awareness and promoting action amongst farmer groups and associations to tackle child labour in agriculture. To this end, a number of awareness workshops have been organized to promote integration of measures on child labour prevention into larger programmes such as food security, land tenure and climate change adaptation.