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Millions Of Waged Farm workers Face Poverty And Hunger, Says New Report

A new report says many of the world’s 450-million waged agricultural workers suffer some of the highest incidences of poverty and hunger. The report accuses governments, development agencies, agricultural banks and others of ignoring what it calls the desperate situation of farm workers.

Peter Hurst is the author of the report, which was done for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Labor Organization. When he wrote the report, Mr. Hurst was employed by the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers Associations. From Geneva, he spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua.

He says, “Agriculture’s traditionally been a sector where low wages, poor working conditions, poor health and safety conditions, general under-regulation have been common problems. And this is especially true for the wage part of the workforce…you’ll find a lot of them are called daily workers, casual workers, often hired on a day-to-day basis. Many others are on what you might call a short-term contracted. They’ll be nothing written. I mean this is purely on a verbal agreement and they’re often paid less than one dollar a day for very heavy work. And you’re talking long hours of work. Eight hours, ten hours and more often in strenuous conditions, heat and cold.”

The report says the wage agricultural work force is becoming increasingly female. Mr. Hurst says, “You’re getting less and less permanent contracts. What you are finding is more and more casual labor. That’s often female casual labor that’s recruited. So, you’re tending to find when you look at things like flower industries in certain parts of Africa the work force often consists of women 18 and over. And there’s also trends whereby women are wanting to get back into work after having had family.”

The report says HIV/AIDS is “devastating the agricultural labor force in many parts of the world. The disease has killed seven million agricultural workers since 1985 in the 25 hardest-hit countries in Africa, and the most affected African countries could lose up to 25 percent of their agricultural labor force in less than two decades.”