Migration / food security in UN global compact

August 6, 2017 | By | Reply More

The first informal interactive multi-stakeholder hearing of the preparatory process for the international conference to adopt a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration – U.N. General Assembly, 26 July 2017.

Panel 2: Drivers of Migration: At the 1:50 mark, watch Jonathan Crush, CIGI Chair in Global Migration and Development, International Migration Research Centre, Balsillie School of International Affairs:

The FAO estimates that 780 million people are currently undernourished and that 108 million are in a state of severe food insecurity. Of these, an unknown number are migrants or dependent on migrant remittances. In the many discussions about the positive development impacts of migration, the nexus between migration and food security remains a peripheral and much-neglected concern. For example, the NY Declaration only mentions food security once. This suggests that it may also be left out of the Global Compact which, I would argue, would be a serious mistake. How then can migration contribute to the achievement of SDG 2 to end hunger and achieve food security and improved nutrition – and how should it be incorporated into the Global Compact? I suggest that it needs to be incorporated in at least 4 ways:

  1. Food insecurity is a major driver of migration particularly in countries in crisis. People do not need to move but they do need to eat and when they cannot eat they will move to where they can. Hunger and food insecurity are a root cause of certain kinds of mass migration. Addressing this driver of migration would reduce involuntary migration and reduce the flow of migrants into irregular migration channels.
  2. It is now generally acknowledged that recipients of cash remittances spend a significant proportion of this income on food purchase. In India, for example, remittance receiving households spend 45-60% of their household budget on food. In SADC, food purchase is the single greatest use of remittances with over 90% of remittance-receiving households using these transfers to buy food. In Latin America, remittance-receiving households spend anywhere between 35% and 75% of household income on food purchase. In all three regions, the data suggests that remittances play a key role in improving food security. Measures to increase remittance flows and reduce remittance transfer costs, will therefore mean more funds for food purchase and less food insecurity.
  3. To focus exclusively on cash remittances is to miss another crucial dimension of the relationship between migration and food security, that is, food remittances. In contrast to cash remitting, data on food remitting is extremely limited. One study in Africa has recently noted that “transfers of food are invisible in the sense that they run within the family and outside market channels.” In Southern Africa, we have found that one-third of migrant-sending households receive remittances in the form of food. A recent study in East Africa found that food remittances represent a mechanism for counteracting food shortages, price shocks and volatility for receiving households and act as a parallel informal system of social security in the absence of formal systems guaranteeing food security for vulnerable households. GC recommendations about enhancing the development impacts of cash remittances also need to take account of food remittances.
  4. There is the question of the food security of migrants themselves in transit and in their countries of destination. Again we need much better data on the food security status of migrants. One hypothesis — known as the “healthy immigrant” effect – argues that migrants tend to be more food secure and healthier (across a whole range of indicators) than those they leave behind, than long-term immigrants, and even than local populations. Is increased food security, perhaps, an undocumented aspect of the triple win of migration?

I have elaborated these ideas further in the latest issue of International Migration in a special issue on the migration and food security nexus. At the global level, there is a clear gap in policy thinking about the positive interactions between migration and food security. The international food security policy agenda pays very little attention to migration and cross-border linkages and flows of remittances and food. It is rather as if nobody moves in the world of international food security and nobody eats in the world of global migration and development. There is an opportunity for food security to be put on the international migration agenda through giving it a place at the Global Compact table.

At the 2:50 mark:

In putting the Global Compact and discussions around it into a multilateral context, the formulation of the SDGs gives us some important signposts.

While there is no migration-specific SDG, migration is buried in the targets of all the goals. With migration being such a contentious issue, what we’ve seen in the past decade or so is the formulation of a language that allows migration to be discussed – which is the language of development – and the contextualizing of migration with regard to development. But it has never been clear what development actually is in that particular context.

The challenge then is not to allow the way in which the SDGs have defined what development is, and what its goals should be, to form the parameters within which we discuss what should be within the Global Compact.

We need to remove ourselves from those constraints and say that migration itself is an important and critical cross-cutting area, which touches on all sustainable development goals. This is an important objective that the Compact should have – it should not be constrained by the framework of the SDGs.

Jonathan Crush heads up the Southern African Migration Programme and Hungry Cities Partnership


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