Today is World Food Day, and the theme this year is “Change the Future of Migration: Invest in Food Security and Rural Development”. This issue is one of pressing importance to all the Partners in GFAR, the Global Forum on Agricultural Research and Innovation. At stake are the future of our food systems, our young people, our rural environments and indeed the very future stability of our societies.
The last few years have seen an unprecedented outflow from rural areas towards urban centers, as young people seek opportunities to improve their livelihoods. This is not a new trend. The State of Food and Agriculture 2017, just released by FAO, reminds that in 1960, 22 percent of the population in developing countries (460 million people) lived in cities and towns. By 2015, that had reached 49 percent (3 billion people).
A large part of this outmigration to cities has been fueled by disillusionment with rural job markets—the dashed hopes of youth in particular who dream of a prosperous future for themselves and their families. Agriculture is no longer seen as an attractive career by the majority of youth, as gilded promises of easy employment in new and exciting—and perhaps less laborious—fields beckon.
However, it is estimated that between 2015 and 2030, the global population of young people aged 15-24 years will rise by about 100 million, to 1.3 billion. Not only would such numbers of youth migrating to urban centers overwhelm urban job markets struggling to offer worthwhile opportunities, but it will leave a huge production gap in rural agriculture—still the world’s main provider of food – and destroy the future for rural communities.
Unless… action is taken to stem the tide of out-migration tomorrow, by ensuring new opportunities in agriculture and food today.
One area of the world that needs immediate attention is the Mediterranean region, where a complex nexus of interactions is taking place between Southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. A lack of opportunity for our youth and its resultant effects in urban poverty conflicts and migration in North Africa and Southern Europe, are major challenges that must be urgently addressed through collective action.
Partners in GFAR, together with the Foundation for South-North Mediterranean Dialogue (FSNMD), a broad-based civil society movement, have been addressing challenges common to the Mediterranean region by organizing a series of dialogues on the changes and innovations required to create a better future for Mediterranean agricultural communities in the southern Mediterranean and to enable a better future for rural women and youth in particular across the region.
GFAR-FSNMD Dialogues in each of the four Mediterranean sub-regions and culminating in major meetings in in Milan and Rome gave the rallying call: “Rural communities, No longer left behind: Rural and regional development in the South and North Mediterranean and the new Neighborhood Policy”. The Dialogues were the result of the GCARD3 Regional consultation process for the MENA Region which took place over the course of 2014 and 2015. The communities represented directly in the Dialogues—rural development, youth, women, business and local governments—expressed the challenges they faced and defined the measures that would need to be taken to create opportunities, measures that are now being picked up by policy makers and regional donors:
- Develop strategies for improving the attractiveness of rural areas for young people, for women and for agripreneurs;
- Encourage collective action at all levels, between partners across sectors and national borders, that will improve policies and encourage allocation of resources, to demonstrate solidarity and to encourage investment in rural areas; and
- Launch a consultation process at national and regional level, with a view to a Congress in 2018 highlighting the collective results that have changed attitudes, behaviors and institutions to the benefit of rural communities.
But economic opportunity in the rural areas also requires linkage with the markets, value addition and service industries that create the opportunity to grow out of poverty. Small towns are a very valuable, yet often overlooked economic engine, as highlighted in FAO’s recently released The State of Food and Agriculture 2017 and as the theme of this UN World Food Day.
“Policy-makers are urged to recognize the catalytic role of small cities and towns in mediating the rural-urban nexus and providing smallholder farmers with greater opportunities to market their produce and share in the benefits of economic growth.” – FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva
These areas of development align closely with the recommendations of the FAO Report; evidence strongly suggests that policy support and innovative investment in rural areas has the potential to catalyze thriving urban food systems.
Small and medium size cities in particular have been often overlooked, although half of all urban dwellers in developing countries live in cities and towns of fewer than 500,000 people. Globally, smaller urban areas currently account for about 60 percent of urban food demand (The State of Food and Agriculture, FAO).
The Report also argues that needed transformations in rural economies can be sparked by generating employment opportunities along the entire value chain: not only production but also input supplies, processing, packaging, marketing and sales.
Taking this important theme forwards, GFAR and FSNMD are holding the first of a series of workshops on the topic of “Small towns in rural territories of the Mediterranean as catalysts of inclusive development and reducing migration”, on December 6, 2017 at Marche-en-Famenne, a small town in rural Belgium. Interventions will be made by FAO and the International Organization for Migration, among others.
The December workshop in Belgium will take a forward-looking view on topics including: agro-industries and service sectors for rural job generation; challenges of population growth; transformational capacity development of youth and women; and connecting rural areas to urban markets through better infrastructure. Also to be tabled will be public policies and investment in support of small scale farmers’ growth, and a special EU Development Program for small cities. The programme takes a landscape/territorial approach, recognizing the interplay between rural areas and small towns as vital economic hubs for agriculture, food and their associated service industries.
The Partners in GFAR, the Global Forum on Agricultural Research and Innovation, are working through collective dialogue, advocacy and action, to change thinking and transform systems and institutions, in order to make sustainable rural development a reality. No single organization can tackle these big challenges alone. Join us, as we work together to ensure a future for our rural youth and communities, mobilizing knowledge and innovation of all kinds.
Blog post by Charles Plummer, GFAR Secretariat
Photo credits: 1,2- Mark Holderness; 3-Photo Credit: Tom Van Cakenberghe / IWMI