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Livestock production

Document | 31 January 2012

Livestock production contributes to 40 percent of the global value of agricultural output and supports the livelihoods and food security of almost one billion people, and is expanding rapidly1. However, the problem of child labour in this sector is often ignored.

Among certain ethnic groups, cattle herding is almost entirely done by children2. Herders represent one of the most widespread and culturally accepted forms of children’s work in many regions. In migrant or nomadic communities, child labour should be addressed with an understanding of this unique lifestyle that intertwines cultural values with production needs.

Children in pastoral communities may spend many months as shepherds and herders in remote, isolated areas tending animals or participating in heavy work, such as leading livestock long distances to water sources. This lifestyle often impedes normal school enrolment and attendance. School curricula may also not support the cultural values of pastoral communities or develop necessary livelihood skills.

Livestock production can also be stationary and larger scale. In many cases, it can be combined with farming. In fact, a typical farm operation may combine the tasks of crop production and harvesting, livestock rearing and handling, and manure disposal.

Some tasks often categorized as domestic chores contribute to livestock production such as collecting grass for cattle, cleaning out cowsheds and looking after small livestock for domestic consumption.

Depending on the conditions, herding, shepherding and handling livestock maybe considered as hazardous work. Injuries from animals include being bitten, butted, jostled, stamped on, gored or trampled. Large and small animals do not need to be aggressive to cause serious harm or even kill a child.

Children rarely wear protective shoes or boots, and this increases their risk for additional injuries and illnesses such as cuts, wounds, bruises, thorn injuries, skin disorders, and infections. Diseases can be contracted through routine contact with animals, insects, pathogens in animal carcasses and work near livestock stabling areas and butchering houses. Exposure to crop dusts and contaminated plant material, water or soil can also pose a health hazard to children. Additionally, livestock dust can penetrate deep into the lungs causing health problems.

Chemical products, including disinfectants for use in livestock production contain caustic or corrosive materials and may be stored in areas that are accessible to children. Fumes released when mixing and applying products can be a particular health hazard for children.

Additional information

FAO: SARD and livestock - Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (SARD) Policy brief No. 17 (2007)
Policy brief to promote sustainable livestock production, including more inclusive policy development, better safety and health, and improving livelihoods and social development of communities dependent on livestock production.

ILO: Poverty reduction in communities vulnerable to child trafficking through the promotion of decent work in the Republic of Cameroon. Reference framework for development interventions targeting Mbororo communities of the Northwest Region (2009)
Provides a reference framework for enhancing the socio-economic integration of the Mbororo (a semi-nomadic pastoralist community found throughout the Northwestern region of Cameroon) by creating income generating activities and employment opportunities that extend beyond livestock husbandry.

1 FAO: The state of food and agriculture: Livestock in the balance (Rome, 2009).

2 FAO, IFAD, ILO: Gender dimensions of rural child labour in Africa. Draft for discussion (Rome, 2009).

Tags: child labour, agriculture

Unit responsible: Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work/IPEC

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