A farmer harvesting wheat in Balkh, Afghanistan.
Photo: © FAO/Hashim Azizi

Employment in agrifood systems

Agrifood systems directly employ more than one billion people, and almost half the world’s population live in households linked to agrifood systems, a new study shows.

Around 1.23 billion people were employed in the world’s agrifood systems in 2019, and more than three times that figure, or almost half the world’s population, live in households linked to agrifood systems, according to new research by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) published in April 2023. Of these 1.23 billion people, 857 million worked in primary agricultural production and 375 million in the off-farm segments of agrifood systems.

The new figures derive from a range of sources and incorporate the widespread use of part-time or seasonal employment in the sector. The figures also refer to agrifood systems rather than agricultural sectors, reflecting the increasing importance of off-farm activities in feeding the world’s population, currently eight billion and growing.

Agrifood systems encompass primary agricultural production of food and non-food products, the production of food of non-agricultural origin, the food supply chain from producer to consumer and the final consumer of food. Globally, these systems produce some eleven billion tonnes of food each year and form the backbone of many economies

The largest number of people employed in agrifood systems, 793 million, is in Asia, followed by almost 290 million in Africa. The majority of the economically active population in low-income countries, particularly in Africa, had at least one job or activity in agrifood systems.

Including relevant trade and transportation activities, 62 per cent of employment in Africa is in agrifood systems, compared to 40 per cent in Asia and 23 per cent in the Americas. The share of agrifood system employment out of total employment that is not directly in the agricultural sectors ranges from 8 per cent in Europe to 14 per cent in Africa.

In most of the countries for which data from FAO’s Rural Livelihoods Information System (RuLIS) database is available, youth, defined as people aged 15 to 35 years old, make up around half of all agrifood system workers, and their share is usually higher in food processing and services.

As countries develop, the share of employment in agrifood systems decreases. This is driven primarily by a reduction in employment in agriculture. As countries move from lower to higher income, the share of the agrifood systems workforce directly engaged in agriculture typically declines, while that engaged in-off farm employment in food processing, services, trade and transport grows. Of the 3.83 billion people reliant on agrifood systems for their livelihoods, 2.36 billion live in Asia and 940 million in Africa.

The first year of the COVID-19 pandemic led to a 6.8 per cent reduction in the number of people employed in agrifood systems. The impact of COVID-19 was highest in Latin America, where employment dropped by 18.8 per cent.


Read more on the FAO website

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