Expanding social insurance for agricultural workers in Middle East and North Africa countries: Identifying key constraints and discussing policy options

Press release | 28 July 2022

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 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 agrifood systems across MENA countries.

The agricultural sector remains an essential source of employment in the MENA region, but one characterized by low coverage of social insurance or contributory schemes. This is largely as a result of high informality and labor laws that exclude agriculture workers, in addition to the obstacles faced by rural workers in actually accessing the schemes they are eligible for.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Serge Nakouzi, FAO RNE Deputy Regional Representative, emphasized that “despite distinct vulnerabilities, agriculture 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 webinar featured interventions by Dr. Mouayad Bsharat, Director of the lobbying and advocacy department, 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 policy making for countries and international partners in the region. The Forum was organized 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.

Under the umbrella of the Issue-Based Coalition on Social Protection and the Social Protection Global Partnership for Universal Social Protection, ILO ROAS and FAO RNE conceived this webinar as the first step in a partnership focused on the practical implementation of more accessible and effective social insurance schemes for men and women dependent on agriculture. The two agencies will continue to support the efforts of MENA governments to extend social insurance to agricultural workers, enabling them to withstand the intersecting environmental, economic and political shocks they face.