Can Food Security Reduce Migration Flows?

Migration has become the main driver of EU’s development policies. Even food security policies are envisaged under this prism. According to a Dutch-based think tank there is a nexus between both but it does not work automatically.
Experts conclude that priority should be given to policies which acknowledge human mobility as a pillar of sustainable food systems.

Owing to the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean, the European Union’s development efforts are increasingly directed towards addressing the “root causes “of migration in an attempt to curb migration flows from Africa. In this context, a particular attention has been given to the relationship between food security and migration by donors. But in a study titled “The nexus between food and nutrition security and migration”, the Maastricht-based think-tank European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM) warns against overly simplistic interpretations of such nexus that often prevail in approaches which consider that investing in agriculture and rural development will significantly reduce migration.
They also warn against the risk to use development cooperation for “security” purposes instead of pursuing genuine objectives for food and nutrition security and rural development.

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To avoid these risks, complex dynamics need to be taken into account, say the authors of the report who advocate a need to rebalance the debate towards maximising the migration development benefits for food and nutrition security. The paper outlines the possible positive and negative impacts of migration on the resilience and productivity of households and communities. Accordingly, programmes targeting food and nutrition security strategies should draw lessons from existing innovative approaches to enhance the positive impact of mobility and migration in rural and urban spaces. Migration-related interventions targeting rural development should include actions that contribute to provide safe, regular and responsible migration opportunities from rural areas and build the resilience of host communities. The trouble is that donors have to a large extent put a number of interventions under the umbrella of addressing the causes of migration without necessarily building them on strong knowledge of mobility and migration patterns.

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Yet, they have identified some success stories. Accordingly, lessons could be drawn from innovative approaches such as the projects started by Italy in Senegal and Ethiopia with European Union Emergency Trust Fund (EUTF) funding. A project in Senegal using innovative blending with the Cassa Depositi e Prestiti  aims for instance to reduce illegal migration through the support to private sector and job creation It stimulates entrepreneurship actively involving the Senegalese diaspora, earmarking 20% of the funding to the Senegalese diaspora back to the country. It also prioritises support to small and medium enterprises in the agricultural and agro-industry sector of Ethiopia.

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According to the ECDPM study, throughout history worldwide, migration has been part of livelihood strategies anyway for people who wish better prospects ad look to diversify income and minimise risks. A more nuanced understanding of drivers of migration is needed. The decision to migrate is taken not only because of socio-economic insecurity, food insecurity and conflict but also as a consequence of individual aspirations. The connection with nutrition problems or poverty is not automatic. Indeed, those who are the most tempted to migrate are often the most educated. According to a Gallup survey made in 2011, 74% of Sub-Saharan people who would like to migrate have completed secondary education and 36% have continued their studies beyond high school. The authors recommend a development approach rather than a security approach towards the food and nutrition security and migration nexus. This means efforts to offer options to individuals so that they can pursue better agricultural, rural or urban livelihood opportunities.
Safe and regular migration and mobility should be among those options accordingly.

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According to FAO, 75% of the world’s food insecure live in rural areas. Conflicts and natural disasters such as droughts or floods are among the drivers but many migrants also move because of economic, political and environmental factors. Rural poverty, food and nutrition insecurity and lack of employment are quoted by FAO among the main drivers beside the inequality between rural and urban areas (in terms of access to health, education and basic services). Climate change hits particularly smallholder farmers, fishers and pastoralists, It contributes to the depletion of natural resources and environmental degradation Land degradation can drive conflicts in the African drylands, especially between pastoralists and farmers. In the Horn of Africa, despite the fact that pastoralists and agro-pastoralists contribute significantly to food security, government policy often apportions inadequate resources towards developing these sectors.
Yet, the urge to migrate does not mean that necessarily Africans do migrate to Europe. Different studies show indeed that the majority of African migrants do rather remain within the African continent. Kenya and Ethiopia rank second and third in the list of the main host countries in the world for refugees in relation to the size of their economies. State-sponsored resettlement schemes have an influence on migration trends. In the case of Ethiopia, such projects often related of large-scale land acquisition can exacerbate food insecurity. One positive aspect however is that in some instances such as an urban resettlement in Bahir Dar, a town on the shores of the Blue Nile in Ethiopia, the people who resettled to other locations have gained legal land rights which were previously not hold. Climate change and food insecurity mostly drive internal migration inside Africa, not to the Global North. Almost all displacement and distress migration due to climate change affecting food availability occurs within developing regions (Horn, Lake Chad, Nile basin), write the ECDPM researchers.

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Geopolitics can also influence the food security of migrant households. In Kenya, climate change push pastoralists to search better opportunities in neighbouring countries.
As borders are being closed in response to rising migration flows and sometimes with incentives provided by the EU for stricter border policies, pastoralists move to urban peripheries instead and become dependent of emergency aid.
Border closures between Ethiopia and Eritrea affect communities through changing local food prices or wage labour rates which in turn can impact food and nutrition security. Antiterrorist financing legislation has made it more difficult for remittances from the UK to reach poor households in Somalia.

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There are indications that huge amounts of money will be invested in Africa’s agricultural sector which in principle should improve food security. The African Development Bank has committed to turn the continent food self-sufficient within ten years and will invest US $ 24 billion to that effect. It is an enormous challenge since Africa is spending currently 36 bn per annum in food imports which represent a third of its consumption of calories. The AfDB contribution only represents 6 percent of the total investment needed to transform Africa ‘s agriculture. Now, even assuming all the funding will be provided (mainly by the private sector presumably), the challenge is whether smallholder farmer will be associated to these grandiose plans. If not, migration either internal or towards to EU is likely to increase.

François Misser















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