21 Dec 2017


• 5.4 million people in Central Europe and 4.5 million in Mediterranean Europe: the number of “net” migrants between 2010 and 2015

• The majority of migrations occur within the African continent, “only” 10% choose Europe

• Each percentage increase in food insecurity compels 1.9% to migrate while a further 0.4% flee for every year of war

• Food production methods impact climate change (agriculture produces 24% of greenhouse gases)

• In Western Europe, “ethnic” domestic food is worth €3bn (and €10.5bn in the US)

• At the 8th Forum on Food and Nutrition, the Barilla Foundation and MacroGeo present the study “Food & Migration. Understanding the geopolitical nexus in the Euro-Mediterranean”

1 billion. That is the number of people1  worldwide who are living asmigrants2 , either because they move within their country of birth and residence (760 million3) or because they live in a country other than the one in which they were born (244 million ). It is a debate focused on Europe: between 2010 and 2015, 5.4 million people from various countries migrated to Central Europe and 4.5 million migrated to Mediterranean Europe, however this is not the full story. In terms of African migration routes, those leading northwards (particularly from Africa to Europe) seem to account for just under 10% of African migrants. The other 90% of those emigrating in Africa do so within the continent, for instance, as in the case of West Africa, where 84% of the migrant population moved within the borders of the Economic Community of West African States4 . Food plays a significant role in this journey, both in terms of economic development and integration of cultural habits: it is one of the principal causes of migration and it can be an opportunity for the destination countries. These are some of the key findings from the study “Food & Migration. Understanding the geopolitical nexus in the Euro-Mediterranean”, presented at the BCFN’s 8th Forum on Food and Nutrition, conducted by MacroGeo and BCFN to understand how the diffusion of migrants’ food habits, particularly those from Africa, is changing the European cultural landscape. 

Understanding the causes of migratory flows,” explained Lucio Caracciolo, President of Macrogeo, “is fundamental to understanding how they will evolve over time and how they will then influence our own habits. Carrying out this analysis on the world of food is a further step, because food is culture, conviviality, and, therefore, integration. Food choices can indicate migrants’ desire to keep the memories of their experiences in their place of origin alive or – alternatively – their desire to distance themselves from what they consider a fragment of the past. But food must also be seen as a tool in meeting the objectives set by the UN’s 2030 Agenda, because we need to learn how to produce it while limiting its impact on the environment and because it is a key element in overcoming social paradoxes.


Today, speaking generally about migration, each percentage increase in food insecurity compels 1.9% of the population to move5  (in a population of 1,000), while a further 0.4% (in a population of 1,000)  flee per year of conflict. Starting from this data, the study by MacroGeo and the BCFN, focuses on the African situation and on how, in recent decades, the principal migratory flows from and within the continent have been caused by the breakdown of traditional food systems, as a result of climate change and drought (like the countries in the Sahel in the 70s); by “inadequate” food policies (like Ethiopia in the 80s); or by “controversial” commercial agreements (as in many West African countries in the 90s). “Food and migration are closely linked: people are emigrating due to food insecurity because climate change is hampering food production in some parts of the world and climate change is to a large extent caused by the way food is produced,” explains Guido Barilla, President of the Barilla Foundation. “Agriculture is responsible for 24% of greenhouse gases: more than industry (21%) and transport (14%)6 . Strong demographic pressure, such as that happening in Africa, makes up the remainder in the decision to emigrate. We have to break this pattern with not only integration policies, but also policies which support development which must however be sustainable, as set out in the UN’s 2030 Agenda.” 

In the case of Africa, the factors which determine migration are both environmental, caused by climate change and availability of resources (Africa has approximately 9% of the world’s drinking water but, according to the WHO, in 2015 in areas like sub-Saharan Africa, 319 million people still did not have access to a drinkable source), and are also linked to ever increasing demographic pressure (there are currently 1.2 billion people in the continent, predicted to increase to 2.4 billion by 2050) which is increasing the demand for food. Other factors include war and conflict, economic and social problems such as poverty, lack of work and little social welfare. “The migration phenomenon,” concludes Caracciolo, “requires medium- to long-term planning based on the concept of “partnership” between the origin and destination countries. Investment in economic and human development in the countries of origin is essential and must involve not only the Mediterranean countries, but all the main geopolitical players in the area, such as the US, China and the Gulf states, in a framework of international cooperation.”


However, migration can and must be seen not just as a challenge in terms of integration, but as a genuine resource. In this sense, food can play a fundamental role. Comparing the number of inhabitants with supply basins of food products, one notes that food distribution in the nine principal markets in Western Europe (UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Netherlands, Austria and Portugal) in 2016 was €427bn (up €4.3bn for consumer products and up 0.9% from 2015). In countries like Germany (€121bn), France (€100bn), Italy (€57bn) and Spain (€43bn)4, total market volume was approximately €321bn and the "ethnic" share7  of food for domestic use was approximately €3bn. This share could increase in the future, as has been seen in the US. There the “family of ethnic products”, in terms of the food market, has a turnover of €10.5bn. In conclusion, integration and sharing spark a constant search for new flavours on the part of chefs, food producers and local consumers, in the cross-border market as well, which translates into concrete economic benefit. One example? The growth in the spice and aromatic herb market which is estimated to reach €8.74bn in 2020 with an annual growth rate of 5%.


1) Migration is a structural phenomenon. In the medium to long term, investment must be made in the economic and human development of the countries of origin, and problems related to migration cannot be tackled simply with migration policies or by implementing policies which are "the same for everyone"; instead it is essential to develop specific strategies for different countries which take internal differences into account.

2) A genuine cooperative approach is required. South-North migratory flows require involvement on a global level with the main geopolitical players such as the US, China and the Gulf states. International cooperation in these areas must take into account the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

3) Following Germany’s "Marshall Plan for Africa", food and agriculture must be considered fundamental pillars for new collaboration with Africa. This requires specific interventions on agriculture and food and nutrition policies agreed by the EU, but also agreements on migratory flows with the migrants’ countries of origin.

 4) While formulating and implementing adaptive measures to climate change, we must not overlook synergies and compromises which have an environmental impact and climate mitigation.

5) Direct remittances are important in connecting migrants’ individual savings to the development of their countries of origin and can facilitate sustainable development.

 6) It is essential to raise society’s awareness to tackle illegal exploitation in agricultural work. 

7) A key link between demography and economic development is women’s emancipation. Therefore the role of women should be at the centre of any co-development and sustainable development strategy.

 8) A research programme on the "link between migration and food" in the destination countries is required. Food has enormous unexplored potential for integration because it acts as an inclusion factor. 

9) The development of agri-food chains in the Mediterranean which are sustainable, integrated, profitable and entrepreneurial can play an important role in stabilising migratory flows, improving food security, rural development and sustaining small owners. 

1  Source International Organization of Migration (IOM), 2015

For more information on migrant “routes”, see attached infographic

3  Understood as someone who is seeking a better standard of life and someone who – for fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinions or membership of a particular social group – find themselves outside the country in which they hold citizenship

4  The following countries belong to the Economic Community of West African States: Benin, Burkina Faso, Capo Verde, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo.

5  United Nations World Food Programme: https://www.wfp.org/news/news-release/new-wfp-report-finds-food-insecurity-accelerates-global-migration  

6  United States Environmental Protection Agency: https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/global-greenhouse-gas-emissions-data

 7  CBI 2017 and MacroGeo elaboration on Ibis world and Nielsen mass market data.  

For further information BCFN Press Office c/o INC – Istituto Nazionale per la Comunicazione

Simone Silvi s.silvi@inc-comunicazione.it 335 1097279 – 06. 44160881

Mariagrazia Martorana m.martorana@inc-comunicazione.it 333 5761268 – 06. 44160864

Valentina Gasbarri, Media Relations, valentina.gasbarri@barillacfn.com  , +39 338 7882700

The Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition Foundation (BCFN Foundation) is a multi-disciplinary research centre which analyses the causes of economic, scientific, social and environmental factors and the effects they have on the food system. It produces scientific content which can be used to inform and help people to make responsible choices regarding food, nutrition, health and sustainability. The Advisory Board oversees the work of the BCFN Foundation. For more information: www.barillacfn.com;