Food and migration: report by Macrogeo and the BCFN reveals food as a factor behind flight but also integration

Food and migration: report by Macrogeo and the BCFN reveals food as a factor behind flight but also integration

December 21, 2017

Food and migration: report by Macrogeo and the BCFN reveals food as a factor behind flight but also integration

Climate change and socio-political instability combine to increase migration. Without initiatives to support food sustainability and an economy that goes beyond one of mere subsistence, migrations from Africa, and especially migrations within the continent, will become a structural phenomenon rather than occasional occurrences.

To what extent will climate change affect population movements within the African continent and across the Mediterranean? What can be done to stabilise migratory flows and improve rural development and local smallholders’ livelihoods? The relationship between food security, sustainability and migration, in light of climate change, was at the centre of the 8th BCFN Forum which took place in Milan, December 4-5. 

Every percentage increase in food insecurity compels 1.9% of the population to migrate while a further 0.4% flee for every year of war.

To provide some data and issues for consideration, Lucio Caracciolo, Head of Geopolitics at Macrogeo, presented an overview of a scientific report drawn up by Macrogeo in collaboration with the BCFN and the CMCC - Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change. 

When analysing the relationship between food and migration, there are three key words that play an important role. The first is interdependence: migration and food production are both based on networks and connections between different areas and cultures, in terms of development, risks and opportunities,” the expert explained during the Forum. “The second key word is paradox: when it comes to food, we are witnessing a paradox where malnutrition, obesity and food waste coexist in society; in terms of migration, we see a paradox where the importance of migration across the Mediterranean toward Europe is overrepresented and, in the media and popular imagination, migration within the African continent (and Asia and the Middle East) is underrepresented even though the latter is much greater and more deadly and concerning. Finally, the third key word is uncertainty: we are living in an age of transition, where we must progressively adapt to climate change but this too is determined by geopolitical systems which are rapidly evolving. It follows that any intervention policy must take into account a broad margin of uncertainty on how events may evolve.


The demography of migration

In the last 15 years the number of international migrants has grown, reaching 244 million in 2015 (there were 222 million in 2010 and 173 million in 2000, according to the UN). If we add in internal migrations (760 million), where people leave their place of residence because of wars or disasters but stay within national borders, that number reaches an astronomical 1 billion migrants. 

Migration is strongly influenced by population growth: in 1950 Europe represented 22% of the global population and in 2050 it will be 7%, while Africa will increase from 9% in 1950 to 25% in 2050.

It is essential therefore to work to ensure that authorities in the various countries and the general population take into account the Sustainable Development Goals put forward by the United Nations. 


It is only through holistic, shared and across-the-board sustainable development that we can guarantee the preservation of the planet, food production for everyone and defuse the population bomb with the subsequent change in geopolitical balance.

“Africa currently has 11% of the world’s population and 9% of its drinking water resources,” the Macrogeo-BCFN report reveals, reminding us of how inconsistent the situation is within the African continent with areas such as the Sub-Sahara affected by rapid desertification.

In addition to the water problem, there is the phenomenon of land grabbing, that is, foreign companies buying up large areas of cultivatable land and consequently depriving local populations and switching production to cultivars which have little nutritional value for the local populations, to the detriment of food sustainability.

Climate change exacerbates a situation where economic crises, corruption and wars are already putting people under pressure, forcing them to migrate and often even to cross the Mediterranean. 

We cannot consider climate change the only factor in the decision to migrate, but it is a co-factor which, alongside economic and social instability, forces the more resourceful to leave their homes to guarantee food and sustenance for their families that stay behind,” explained Alex Randall, Project Manager of the Climate Change and Mitigation Coalition, an NGO which promotes resilience projects such as planned migration or the organised and agreed movement  of entire villages to more hospitable areas.

While, in the short term, resilience micro projects fulfil the duty of guaranteeing food sustainability and reducing migration risk, the Macrogeo-BCFN report also highlights the need for long term planning, even with the general climate of uncertainty. 

Supporting policies to reduce global warming must therefore go hand in hand with developing an efficient and sustainable agricultural system in the African continent, through educational programmes on capacity building and the introduction of technological innovations in agriculture, in order to move from production for mere sustenance to production which is enhanced by the development of a genuine food chain which gives local products the added value of local processing.

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