Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems

Parental work in agriculture affects child development

Children are negatively affected when their parents work in farming, and this could be addressed by interventions in child care and women’s empowerment.

Child development is negatively affected when both parents work in agriculture, compared to when they work non-agricultural jobs, a large-scale study has found.   

These outcomes highlight the need for interventions to support parents working in agriculture, especially as the world shifts towards sustainable farming, which can be more time consuming.

There is a greater need to consider aspects of agricultural life beyond health and safety, including the impact agricultural work can have on caregiving and early child development.   

Early childhood development  

Researchers at the Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems sought to examine how the early years of a child’s life, which are critical for their development, are affected when their parents work in agriculture.   

The first of its kind, this study found that families where both parents are employed in agriculture become more reliant on alternative caregivers than families where both parents are employed in other sectors.   

Children of parents working in agriculture are often less likely to attend early childhood care and education programmes.   

The findings also highlight the importance of women’s empowerment in child development. Women were found to be less empowered in households where both parents worked in agriculture, and previous research shows empowerment can positively influence early childhood development.   

In light of this, researchers concluded that parental agricultural employment may be an important risk factor for early childhood development.  

Intervention and future research  

This research involved more than 8,500 young children and their families living in low- and middle-income countries in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean interviewed between 2011 and 2020.  

The research team suggest that people working in agriculture in these contexts often do not have access to day care and early childhood education programmes, possibly due to household income or rural location. More research is still needed to help inform policies and interventions to support low-income working parents in low-resource contexts.  

This study was published in PLOS Global Public Health and was carried out in collaboration with researchers from the International Food Policy Research Institute and Harvard University in the United States.  

Agricultural interventions are very much focused on occupational health, such as safety practices, but rarely focus on the families of farmers, particularly the development of their children. Research and resources are needed to help expand the dialogue especially for agricultural interventions that might impact farmers’ time, such as more manual weeding if the use of herbicides is reduced. If it impacts their time, it may also impact their child’s development.

Professor Lindsay JaacksGlobal Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems

Promoting optimal child development in early life is important in shaping long-term education, labour, and wage outcomes. Most early childhood development interventions are still primarily focused on improving parenting practices and providing opportunities for early learning. However, considering the larger contexts and environments in which children grow up is equally important. Our study sheds light on the family environment, and particularly the role of parental agricultural employment in shaping early childhood development. More work is still needed to adequately support parents engaged in farming to ensure their children thrive.

Dr Lily BliznashkaGlobal Academy of Agriculture and Food Systems and International Food Policy Research Institute

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