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FAO and BIC explore links between agriculture and migration

“We want to make sure that agriculture is part of the solution and is not overlooked when it comes to migration,” said Jocelyn Brown-Hall from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) during an online discussion hosted by the Baha’i International Community (BIC) and the FAO, titled “Africa - EU partnership in addressing drivers of migration”.

“Migration and mobility” is listed as one of the five challenges common to both continents in the March 2020 strategy proposal “Towards a Comprehensive Strategy with Africa”(link is external). To meaningfully address this challenge, there is a need to better understand the complex drivers of migration, including changes in the agriculture sector.

The discussion brought together over 80 policymakers, academics and social actors from Africa and Europe to jointly analyze the links between agricultural policies and the underlying factors that lead to displacement in Africa. The meeting builds on a series of discussions the BIC hosted in collaboration with the Joint Research Center of the European Commission(link is external), which focused on the link between European agricultural policies and migration. 

“One significant driver of migration is the lack of a viable future and economic deprivation linked to the agricultural sector” said Rachel Bayani, the representative of BIC Brussels Office.  “For movement to become a choice, rather than a necessity, it is crucial to understand how policies impact the agricultural sector in countries of origin, whether positively or negatively, and how long-term strategies can be developed with the well-being of all humanity in mind.”

Participants at the gathering traced the path that many migrants take from rural areas to cities, and from there to other countries and continents, casting a light on how economic and environmental pressures, such as the devaluation of smallholder farming and the loss of land, drive people to leave rural areas. These movements have ripple effects across the African continent and beyond. 

“Where migration starts is where the people are in rural areas. If people are discontent in their rural areas, they are pushed to cities, and then further abroad,” said Geoffrey Wafula Kundu, Program Coordinator for Migration at the African Union Commission.

Jannes Maes, president of the Council of European Young Farmers, noted that advancing constructive attitudes toward farming, particularly among rural youth, is important to strengthen rural communities in any part of the world.

“Changing the mindset toward farming will require removing barriers,” says Mr. Maes. “The main barriers—in Europe but also those that we hear from our African colleagues—are access to land, to supply chains, to investment even if there is no ‘home-grown capital’ to build on. These have to be tackled by the whole of our societies.”

Leonard Mizzi of the European Commission Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development highlighted the role European policy could play in promoting trade within the African continent. “For green recovery we have to think about agriculture. COVID has exposed fragilities around systems such as trade. What type of food systems will be more resilient to future shocks?” he asked. “So if we don’t have a systems approach that will really address these things, we cannot recover. Solutions from the top down will not work. We need a farmer and human-rights driven process.”

Kalenga Masaidio of the Kimanya-Ngeyo Foundation for Science and Education, a Baha’i-inspired organization in Uganda, noted that an important aspect of finding solutions to the challenges of migration is allowing rural communities to participate in generating knowledge about agricultural systems. 

“The main issue is empowering individuals and rural community members so that they can take ownership of their own social, economic, and intellectual development,” said Mr Masaidio. “Rather than us thinking that solutions to these problems will always come from outside, true development should start right from the rural communities.” 

Reflecting on these discussions, Ms. Bayani stated: “The pandemic has so prominently highlighted flaws in the international order and how unity is needed to tackle any problem efficiently. Having a space where policymakers and social actors across continents can think together in light of our interconnectedness is an important step in addressing an issue of international concern.”



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