Migration and agriculture

What do you need to know?

Migrants walk to a makeshift camp in Greece. ©FAO/Giuseppe Carotenuto


On International Migrants Day, here are six facts that might change the way you look at migration, and help you better understand the link between migration and agriculture.

1. People are on the move but mostly within their own countries

In 2017, the number of  international migrants worldwide has reached 258 million, up from 248 million in 2015, and 220 million in 2010.

But despite public perception, the largest share of migrants, about 763 million according to the latest estimates, move within their own countries to cities or to other rural locations.

In countries like Nigeria and Uganda, for example, internal migration is as high as 80 percent.

2. Migration is part of the development process

Migration plays an important role in every society’s permanent process of change.

Migrants have shaped the world we live in. They have supported both their countries of origin and destination.

At destination, migrants provide their labour force and a different set of skills and knowledge. At origin, migration can reduce pressure over natural resources and foster a more efficient allocation of rural labour.

Diaspora groups and returned migrants also help rural areas through investments, skills and technology transfers, know-how and social networks.

Remittances provide an often important extra source of income and help migrants’ communities in their countries of origin to escape poverty and hunger.

3. Why are people migrating? 

Left: Mothers and their babies in a camp for displaced people in South Sudan. The number of people displaced by conflict has been on the rise. ©FAO/Giuseppe Carotenuto Right: “Now I can stay, and take care of my plants because of the support I got,” Paseano Gómez López, a former migrant and farmer from Mexico, going to his farm, early morning. He is part of a FAO project supporting poor rural communities by providing them with options to restore or improve their livelihoods. ©Alex Webb/Magnum Photos for FAO

A growing number of people are forced to leave their homes because of natural disasters (floods, droughts, earthquakes), climate change, conflicts, violence, persecution and human rights abuses. In 2016, the number of forcibly displaced people reached an all-time high figure of 66 million people worldwide.

However, many people move because they perceive there are no other alternatives to escape poverty and live with dignity.

Around 40 percent of international remittances are sent to rural areas, reflecting the rural origin of a large share of migrants. More than 75 percent of the world’s poor and food insecure live in rural areas, mostly depending on agriculture and natural resource-based livelihoods.

Rural poverty, food insecurity, lack of employment opportunities and access to social protection, natural resource depletion and deterioration in rural livelihoods are important drivers of migration. 

Due to large rural populations and the ongoing urbanization process, migration from rural to urban areas is very common in Africa. However, people also move from urban to rural areas, or between rural areas, in seasonal and circular ways (moving back and forth, to the same or different areas).

The result? The lines between rural-urban spaces and livelihoods are blurred, portraying a new African rural-urban reality.

4. A rising youth force = a rising need for employment opportunities

Migration has an important age dimension. One third of all international migrants from developing countries are between 15 and 35 years.

Youth population is expected to triple to over 350 million by 2050. Most live in rural areas and are often employed in agriculture. This poses huge pressure on rural economies.

Rural youth are more likely to migrate, in search of better opportunities and the fulfilment of their personal goals and aspirations.

In Africa, around 380 million Africans will enter the labour market by 2030. About 220 million people will be in rural areas.

The challenge in the next decades will be to generate enough employment to absorb a booming labour force.

©FAO/Luis Tato

5. What role can agriculture and rural development play?

Rural areas are and will continue to shape migration for the decades to come in many countries. Agriculture and rural development must be an integral part of any response to large migratory movements. They can harness the potential of migration for development.

Agriculture and rural development can create farming and other rural, off-farm business opportunities and jobs for young people. They can create conditions whereby people migrate out of choice and not necessity.

6. The future of migration

How many people will migrate? Why? Who will they be? Where will they go?

Predicting the exact answers is impossible.

But knowing more about migration, can help us better respond to it.

The decision of a rural person to migrate should not be dictated by survival or be seen as the only viable option for a decent life, but inspired by an aspiration for new experiences.

The challenge is to address the structural drivers of large movements of people to make migration safe, orderly and regular. In this way, migration can contribute to economic growth and improve food security and rural livelihoods, thus advancing countries’ progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

FAO and its partners are working to address the factors that compel people to move. FAO and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have been appointed to co-chair the Global Migration Group (GMG) in 2018. The GMG is an inter-agency body for global dialogue on migration, and plays an important role in supporting the adoption of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

Find out more about FAO and migration, and about rural migration in Africa

8. Decent work and economic growth, 10. Reduced inequalities