Youth group from Madagascar leads reforestation efforts in Menabe.
Members of the FOSA youth group of southwestern Madagascar cleaning up previously burned areas and planting seedlings. | Photo Credit: USAID Madagascar

Designing Inclusive Green Employment Programs to Meet Climate and Food Security Objectives

By Dr. Collin VanBuren

Agriculture drives the economies of many low- and middle-income countries. Strengthening the resilience and sustainability of agriculture and food systems, including improving productivity and resource use efficiency, will have far-reaching impacts to catalyze the economic transformation needed for poverty alleviation and climate change adaptation and mitigation. Improvements in these systems can have a considerable impact on women and youth: in least-developed countries, 64.3 percent of women were employed in agriculture in 2015, and an estimated 12-14 million young Africans enter the labor force each year to compete for an estimated 3 million new jobs. Work in agriculture is often informal and/or low-income, and youth are more often living in working poverty. At a time when better-quality jobs are needed, especially for marginalized groups like youth and women, jobs in agriculture are increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Shocks like drought can decrease production, and stressors like extreme heat decrease the number of hours people can safely work. 

Faced with these challenges, how can we improve employment and poverty reduction outcomes for, and with, youth and women and create more resilient food systems? Creating green jobs in agriculture and food systems is one way to provide opportunities that strengthen individual resilience while also contributing to the transformation of food systems to be more equitable, sustainable, and resilient. 

“Green jobs,” “green economies,” and other terms are used to describe economic systems that deliver more equitable and sustainable futures. These concepts are often aligned with ideas like the “just transition.” The USAID 2022-2030 Climate Strategy defines green jobs as jobs “that help drive the change for systems to become more inclusive, lower-carbon, and climate-resilient, including but not limited to those requiring less land and water.” In other words, these are jobs that can be created or transformed to improve social and environmental outcomes. A “green economy” framework identifies leverage points for systemic transformation to achieve similar environmental and social goals. 

These concepts include two key components: better environmental outcomes and better job quality. The flexibility of the green jobs concept allows it to address locally identified environmental concerns within the food system, but it can also mean that not all “green jobs” are equal. Which environmental outcomes or aspects of jobs that need to be improved is context-dependent, and a suite of analyses exists to identify them, such as market systems analyses, inclusive development analyses, and climate risk assessments. Green jobs or green employment programs should consider how they will meet the following four objectives for improved social, economic, and environmental outcomes:

  1. Increase the number of jobs, in both the informal and formal economies, that are resilient in a more climate-volatile world;
  2. Improve the quality of jobs in line with International Labor Organization (ILO) guidelines for just transition and principles of “decent work”: employment creation, social protection, rights at work, and social dialogue;
  3. Address both supply-side (e.g., skill gaps) and demand-side (e.g., social norms) barriers that may be exacerbated by climate change to make market systems more inclusive and harness a larger working population;
  4. Identify risks from environmental changes and identify opportunities to reduce negative environmental and economic impacts and increase the resilience of market systems.

For an illustrative example, the ILO conducted a market systems development and just transition analysis of the horticulture sector in Tanzania to identify interventions that could improve social, economic, and environmental outcomes. They found the sector was producing less than half of its potential, partially due to climate challenges such as reduced rainfall and soil water retention. They also found that innovations that improve post-harvest handling could increase food quality and lead to more and better jobs along the value chain.

USAID is supporting green jobs programs through initiatives like the Gender Equity and Equality Action Fund, Women in Waste’s Economic Empowerment Activity, and the Program for Local and Urban Sustainability, but there is more to be done. For others looking to initiate green jobs programs, partner country agriculture development plans and climate commitments (e.g. in Nationally Determined Contributions and National Adaptation Plans) outline where and how a government intends to transform its agriculture sector, and some specifically mention green jobs. 

The private sector can also do more to invest in research and development for climate-smart food systems that deliver more jobs for youth and women. For example, the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate has driven over 75 Innovation Sprints in which companies and organizations commit new resources to collaboratively address climate-related challenges in food systems. They are accepting applications for a final round of Innovation Sprints through the end of August 2024. Companies that care about building innovations that address the needs of the next generation can consider Sprints that focus on creating more and better green jobs for youth in food systems. 

Agricultural innovations (including technological, social, and process innovations) are critical to advancing climate-smart food systems, but they can also have adverse impacts or be less effective if they do not holistically examine the social and environmental impacts on the sector. Despite important advancements in the last 60 years, a recent study shows that global agricultural productivity growth is approximately 21 percent lower than it would have been without climate change—the equivalent of losing about seven years of progress since the 1960s. In some regions, like sub-Saharan Africa, the loss of productivity is up to 40 percent (Ortiz-Bobea et. al., 2021). Green jobs and the greener innovations they integrate are one tool for helping scale these innovations to their full potential.

As we work towards a more climate-resilient future, let’s remember that the systems transformation required to create this future also presents a major opportunity to imagine a far more inclusive and equitable world for all. Green jobs and employment are some of the many ways in which we can do both climate change and food security objectives, especially for, and with, youth and women.

Strategic Objective
Adaptation, Mitigation
Adaptation, Agriculture, Climate-Resilient Agriculture, Climate Policy, Climate Strategy, Inclusive Development, Food Security, Gender and Social Inclusion, Green Jobs, Mitigation, Partnership, Systems Change, Youth

Dr. Collin VanBuren

Dr. Collin VanBuren is a biologist interested in socio-ecological systems. He recently worked as a Climate, Youth, and Inclusion Advisor contracted through the Food Systems Service Center II mechanism to support the President's Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience (PREPARE) at USAID. Collin was previously a AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow at USAID and holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge, where he was a Gates Cambridge Scholar.

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