IPC-IG, FAO and ILO jointly organised a webinar on policy options to extend social insurance to agriculture workers in the MENA region

Photo: Duaa Hassan/Unsplash 

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Regional Office for the Near East and North Africa (FAO RNE), the International Labour Organization Regional Office for Arab States (ILO ROAS), and the International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG) jointly organized a regional webinar on policy options to extend social insurance to agriculture workers and producers in the MENA region.

The webinar, titled “Expanding social insurance for agricultural workers in Middle East and North Africa countries: Identifying key constraints and discussing policy options”, was held through the socialportection.org platform on 28 July 2022, and provided an opportunity to discuss best practices and potential reforms to extend the coverage of contributory schemes in the context of multiple overlapping crises affecting food security and agri-food systems across MENA countries.

Although agricultural sector remains an essential source of employment in the MENA region, coverage of social insurance or contributory schemes for agricultural workers remains low. This is largely a result of high informality and labour laws that exclude these workers, in addition to the obstacles they face to access the schemes for which they are eligible.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Serge Nakouzi, FAO RNE Deputy Regional Representative, emphasised that “despite distinct vulnerabilities, agricultural workers and small producers across the region remain excluded from statutory regimes offering protection. In other words, one of the population groups most exposed to risk is also one of the least protected by labour laws and social insurance.”

Mr. Peter Rademaker, ILO ROAS Deputy Regional Director, further underscored how “work in agriculture is associated with high levels of informality and exposure to risks of all nature. When workers in agriculture experience income losses, they may resort to harmful coping strategies, such as the distress sale of assets, taking on predatory loans or engaging in child labour.” Mr. Rademaker added: “This is where international labour standards and universal social protection measures can make a real difference. Today’s discussion is about how to design and build effective and lasting social insurance systems that benefit those working in agriculture.”

The main findings of three jointly developed policy reports were presented for discussion and feedback from governments and stakeholders in the agriculture sector. The reports examine how social insurance schemes can be designed to better address the risks faced by agricultural workers in the region and explore approaches to overcome financial and administrative hurdles to more inclusive social insurance programmes.

The reports are the outcomes of the project Expanding Social Insurance for Agricultural Workers in NENA Countries, jointly developed by FAO, ILO and the IPC-IG. Lucas Sato, IPC-IG Research Assistant, and Nourjelha Mohammed, IPC-IG Research Consultant, presented the main outcomes.

Sato stated that "to offer an adequate social insurance mechanism to protect these workers, it is necessary to rethink the model of employment benefits, considering the specificities of the work arrangements in the agricultural sector, as well as the seasonality of production".

In turn, Mohammed talked about the importance of knowledge about social insurance schemes for agricultural workers: "many countries in the MENA region have low financial literacy rates, the rural population usually have limited access to financial inclusion and there is a lack of knowledge about the importance of social insurance schemes […] this can be overcome by conducting awareness-raising campaigns and promoting financial inclusion".

The webinar also featured interventions by Dr. Mouayad Bsharat, Director of the lobbying and advocacy department of the Union of Agricultural Work Committees from the State of Palestine; Dr. Mervat Sabreen, Assistant Minister of Social Solidarity for Protection and Social Safety Networks, Ministry of Social Solidarity of the Arab Republic of Egypt and; Ms. Nejia Hayouni, Deputy Director of Planning, Ministry of Agriculture, Water Resources and Fisheries in Tunisia.

The webinar was held against the backdrop of a declaration adopted in November 2021 by a high-level Ministerial Forum involving the ministers responsible for social protection in the Arab region, stating key guiding principles for post-COVID-19 social protection that will inform policymaking for countries and international partners in the region. The Forum was organised by the Regional UN Issue Based Coalition (IBC)  for Social Protection, coordinated by UNICEF and ILO, in collaboration with UN-ESCWA, and with support from the IPC-IG and the socialprotection.org platform.

The recordings will soon be available in the webinar's page at the socialprotection.org platform.


(With information from ILO ROAS and FAO RNE)


Related news: