Taking a short sabbatical from on-the-ground assignments, Rainforest Alliance trainer and auditor Noah Jackson tackles some of the issues surrounding child labor with a compelling photo essay.
Every year around Halloween, I receive emails about cocoa and child labor – some coming from friends living as far away as Uganda and the Philippines. Since most of the family farmers the Rainforest Alliance works with have children, issues surrounding food and child labor are especially important. It’s a challenging topic because what constitutes child labor is not always clearcut. As someone who grew up working on a farm (likely earning below minimum wage myself) and helping out a lot while young, I definitely recognize the challenges of distinguishing between what constitutes child labor and what is only ordinary family participation. Children too young for school cannot be left at home if they do not have child care. So naturally, parents bring them along to the fields. There is also an intrinsic value to learning to grow food while young and being part of a working family, even if it’s only on the weekends.
On Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms, children are not permitted to work — even part time — if they are younger than 15 years old. Of course, these children are also guaranteed access to school, so that is where they spend their days.
Around the holidays, items made with cocoa, oils and nuts from Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms are particularly popular. With that in mind, I thought I would share some images from my archive of the past year of farm visits. Since I spend a lot of time walking to farms, which means passing through a variety of land, the images are not all from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms.
A boy follows his brother for an afternoon of coffee picking. Photo by Kevin O’ Brady.
I found these kids wandering around a plantation. During the coffee season, the children are hired as regular pickers. If this were a Rainforest Alliance Certified farm, the children couldn’t be hired and would need to attend school.
Two girls hang out by a river adjacent to their village in Madagascar. They told me that they occasionally go to their family’s forest garden plot to play and keep their parents company.
I found this band of trailside girls wandering along a series of community forest paths that run adjacent to small rice farms. When I asked about the knife they were carrying, the girls said they were looking for ripe mangos.
A boy carries school supplies across a river in Madagascar. In areas where we work, long walks to school are common. Some large farms provide transportation to distant schools, or set up schools on farms.
This girl sells peppers from house to house in a small village in Ghana.
Children make some of the best fruit harvesters. This young girl is carrying the breadfruit she harvested back home, where it will be a part of a family lunch.
I visited this small farm work plot in the Ivory Coast. As workers cleared land, it was clear that there wasn’t enough food to go around. This is one reason why looking at food security and food for a growing population is important.
One of the most basic ways to identify child labor is to ask how many kids are working on a family farm and identify their roles. When talking with these two boys, I wanted to know if there was enough land to grow both cocoa and the sweet local “cocoa yam” staple. They explained that their parents did the farming; they were just in the process of carrying part of dinner back to the village.
One afternoon, while on a farm, this girl passed our group. Fresh from school, I could see all the farmer’s children and could verify that they had access to education and enough income to pay this girl’s school fees.
Girls from the nearby school peer at us through the window during a meeting.
This girl, fresh from weeding her own plot of beans outside her house, looked up at me as I took this photo. Although she seemed happy and well-fed, this image provided the perfect context for taking her parents aside and discussing their family’s food security.
This boy lives in the Heart of Borneo, a large forested area that is home to the Penan. He is growing up nomadic, the last of a generation. Like a number of subsistence farmers throughout the world, there is not much separation between work, life and play. Although some schooling is necessary for the Penan, it is important that their schooling is culturally appropriate.
This boy peers into my camera while clutching maize, a staple in this Malagasy village. In terms of importance, it’s second only to rice. These kids are intimately connected to where their food comes from -- it’s important for them to learn about farming and the challenges their parents face so that sustainable farming is passed down.