What is the link between food security and migration?

Caritas International Belgium What is the link between food security and migration?
03/08/2018

For many developing countries, seasonal and circular migration have long-since proven successful for staying food-secure. This is migration used as a coping strategy. But what is the impact of this migration on food access in Southern countries? And how do the European development and migration policies influence this access to food? Anna Knoll, migration expert at the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM), explains this to us.

HOW ARE FOOD SECURITY AND MIGRATION LINKED?

Anna Knoll: One of the strategies people use to get access to more food, is mobility.  Migration can very well prove to be a positive coping strategy. When a family, for example, cannot access enough food, one family member could decide to migrate looking for a better job. That way they can send money or food to their family back home.

The link can, however, be more complex: the extra salary can also be used to make some big investments, such as buying agricultural tools or machinery, or investing in a small company to create more jobs. Used like this, migration can lay the foundations of the value chains of a society’s economy, agriculture and food availability. This means that migration is only successful if the migrant was able to find a job and is, as a result, earning more money which enables better access to food.

However, it is important to mention that migration’s effect on food security is not always positive. In some cases, such as migration from the countryside to the city, the migrant might not find a job and therefore end up in a dangerous situation. In these cases, the migrants might even need support of their family, which is the exact opposite of their initial purpose, namely to improve the family’s financial situation.

DO PEOPLE ALWAYS MIGRATE WHEN THEY DO NOT HAVE ENOUGH FOOD?

A.K.: Not necessarily, no. Many people who have reason enough to try and improve their situation through migration, cannot do so because they lack the means, connections or abilities. When we talk about migrants, we often tend to forget those who are not able to leave their home town. These people are stuck in a precarious or dangerous situation.  Often it is exactly these people who want to but are not able to migrate, that suffer the most.

Politicians should not forget these people, especially if their laws and policies restrict mobility or make it more dangerous for people to move.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE DEVELOPMENT POLICY?

A.K.: The current policy for development cooperation focuses on tackling the underlying reasons for migration. This means that the policy has now turned its attention to societies with a high migration rate or to societies who are more likely to experience migration than others. These societies can be the most vulnerable ones, but this is not necessarily the case. In my opinion, we should consider if we want to focus on the most vulnerable societies or the most mobile ones.

WOULD FOOD SECURITY BENEFIT FROM IMPROVING SAFE MIGRATION OPTIONS?

A.K.: Yes. Migration is a successful strategy for obtaining a higher level of food security, but not every migration is successful.  A migration’s success rate will increase when people can travel relatively cheaply and safely. If not, the migrants end up in a dangerous situation and the family is worse off than before.

We should also remember that many regions with food shortage would not survive without migration. Such regions have used seasonal and circular migration for centuries as a means to survive. An example: in the past, I used to work at the border between Uganda and South Sudan, where a lot of refugees from South Sudan have settled. The conflict in their home country also disturbed their agriculture. In Uganda, they are safe and they have access to medical care and food.

One or two family members cross the border to take care of their cattle or remaining crops. Sometimes, another family member will also send back money from the city where they are working. In summary, mobility is a family’s main strategy to provide enough food for every family member.  If we would close the borders or make it very difficult for people to migrate, the economic system would probably be disturbed as well, which would lead to less food security.

THERE IS A FEAR AMONGST EUROPEANS THAT ALL PEOPLE FROM THE SOUTH WILL COME TO EUROPE. WHAT DO YOU THINK?

A.K.: Well, at the moment we cannot say that all people would want to migrate to Europe. What we see is that mobility across Africa is still higher than mobility from Africa to other continents, including the Middle-East[1].

We don’t know what the future holds, but the causes for migration are likely to increase. The population will increase, and with it also the pressure on the environment tortured by climate change. This will, in turn, cause more conflicts. Nonetheless, a lot depends on how we deal with these changes.

Climate change will put more and more pressure on our natural resources. We assume that this will cause more regional rather than international migration. But as I said, these things are hard to predict. As we have seen in Syria, a high level of instability and conflicts in a specific region can spike a big international migration flow.

HOW CAN WE REVERSE THE NEGATIVE IMAGE THAT MIGRATION HAS TODAY?

A.K. : On the one hand, there are international frameworks, such as the Global Compact for Migration (GCM) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)SDGs that did succeed in bringing a positive image of migration.  I think that a few European member states and the European Commission have played an important role in this as well. On the other hand, you see countries such as Hungary leaving the GCM negotiations and saying that migration is bad. If you ask me, the message that should be spread is one that admits that migration is the day-to-day reality for a lot of people, and that it is a natural aspect of the development and transformation of countries and societies. More specifically of development countries, where mobility across borders lays the foundations for people’s economy, food security and financial security. Saying that this is something bad, seems quite cynical.

To change this negative image, we need to start looking beyond our European bubble. Here, we have been focusing on refugees, because they have been the biggest challenge for Europe during the past few years. Refugees, however, make up only a small part of the world’s mobility rate. I think we should keep trying to put new information into perspective and to spread the message that migration is real, but that it can be advantageous as well.

HOW CAN THE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS HELP IMPROVE FOOD SECURITY?

A.K.: This international framework that recognises how countries’ development benefits from migration is a first in the history of migration policy. Furthermore, the SDGs work vertically: they connect multiple policy areas in Europe. That is why the SDG framework is so strong. On the other hand, there is a paradox in this story. During the SDG negotiations, Europe started to focus on the underlying reasons for migration. However, they failed to link their new focus to the SDGs or to create a broader coherency in policy.

What I think is that we should go back to applying the SDGs to all of our actions.


#whatishome is a social media campaign for development education and awareness raising (DEAR) that we launched three years ago for the MIND project, with financial support from the European Union. Already 11 countries and 12 Caritas organisations have decided to participate. For more info, click here. Since Caritas International is responsible for this campaign, its contents may not always follow the EU’s official point of view.

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Footnote :

[1]

To learn more about this topic, please watch our interview with professor Frédéric Docquier. In the interview, he talks about the factors that influence the South-North migration.

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