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Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition • FSN Forum

Re: Rural migration, agriculture and rural development

Philipp Aerni
Philipp AerniCenter for Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability at the University of ZurichSwitzerland

I very much agree with David Michael: the report would greatly benefit from more urbanization experts with a background in the history of rural-urban linkages. The process of urbanization has always been shaped by rural migration. In this context, I miss the seminal work of Jane Jacobs (e.g. economies of cities, cities and the wealth of nations, systems of survival).

Another issue that many rural development experts tend to ignore is the fact that in LDCs, and in East and West Africa in particular, average farm sizes are currently shrinking (in many rural regions the average is 0.4 hectares) rather than increasing. A farmer at lake Victoria in Kenya told me a few years ago that foreign NGOs help him to increase soil fertility and adopt sustainable agricultural practices. Even though it helps to improve farm productivity, these outsiders would not realize that he will be doomed on the long run since his farm size is less than 0.4 hectares and likely to shrink in the next generation to level that will lead to hunger and malnutrition on the farm.

Why? Because he has six children and only one managed to get a job in the city Kisumu. This one daughter helps them to survive through her remittances. However, if the other five kids fail to obtain off-farm employment, he will have to further subdivide his land. So the average farm size in the next generation is likely to fall below 0.1 hectares. One of the survival options his kids have is to cut forest to extend the cultivated land. But that is not allowed anymore in Kenya. So the other option to escape hunger and misery is more likely, namely to migrate to urban areas where the likelihood of obtaining a job or investment for a business is higher

Europe faced the same problem with its small-scale farmers in the 19th century. 'Realteilung' (dividing property among the numerous offspring) forced millions of Europeans to leave their family farm to migrate to domestic cities and overseas. Alas, people in affluent Europe today have been taught in school that small is beautiful and sustainable in farming.  this This popular view then leads to wrong priorities in development assistance (often preventing rather than enabling structural change in agriculture). I discuss this issue in my paper on migration-induced urban growth ( I hope the SOFA report will address this issue even if some donors may not want to hear it.