L'Emploi rural décent

Questions and Answers on Migration (FAO Migration Framework)


Migration is a growing phenomenon, with both challenges and opportunities for communities of origin, transit and destination, and for migrants themselves. It can be an engine for growth and transformation. It can also be the result of catastrophic forces such as natural disasters that led to forced displacement. FAO strives to maximize the benefits of migration, while minimizing the risks, in order to make migration work for all. The FAO Migration Framework guides the Organization in carrying out its work on migration around the globe to achieve these goals.

FAO Technical Focal Point on Migration, Jacqueline Demeranville, answers some commonly asked questions.

First off, why is FAO even working on migration?

Migration as a phenomenon is huge. In the State of Food and Agriculture 2018, FAO estimated that there were more than one billion internal migrants. International migrants totaled 272 million according to 2019 estimates of UN DESA. Labour is an essential component of agri-food systems. If we ignore how and why people move, we miss a crucial part of the puzzle in how the system works and how to make it function better for people, the environment and rural economies.

We also have a lot to contribute in FAO’s traditional areas of technical expertise. For instance, when we look at some of the adverse drivers of migration, we see climate change and environmental degradation, a lack of decent rural employment opportunities, vulnerability to shocks such as in food price markets, floods, locust invasion. FAO has a substantial role to play here, working with governments to address these drivers through adaptation to climate change, strengthening agri-food systems for better employment opportunities, and increasing the resilience of rural livelihoods. 

This is also true along the migration cycle, from pre-departure to arrival and return. At each point, there are particular strengths that FAO can bring to work in that area.

What is FAO trying to achieve through its work on migration?                                                                                                    

Our vision is to make migration a choice, not a necessity. For those who do chose to migrate we are working to improve outcomes, for the migrants themselves as well as for their communities of origin and receiving communities. We want to help minimize the risks and maximize the benefits.

We recognize that we cannot do this alone, and partnerships are a key part of our strategy.

What do you mean by the benefits of migration?

There are a number of benefits to migration. For one, it can relieve pressure on local labour markets and resources. It can also help meet demand for labour in agriculture and food systems in areas of destination. I think the COVID-19 pandemic has really thrown this in the spotlight as well; migrants play an essential role in our food systems.

People who migrate can also contribute back to their communities in a number of ways. A lot of migrants send money, in the form of remittances, back home. In 2019, remittances totaled 554 billion US dollars, which is more than official development assistance. Many families use this money to buy food and meet other basic needs. Some of it is also invested directly by migrants or by their families. Migrants can also contribute in other ways, sharing knowledge learned, skills gained and know-how to support improvements in agricultural production and processing, and the development of agri-businesses back home and in their receiving communities.

What does a typical FAO migration project look like?

The projects differ quite a lot, depending on the dimensions of migration being addressed. For example, a project supporting women who stayed behind in rural areas with large-scale male out-migration might combine women’s empowerment training with systemic changes to improve their access to agricultural technologies, extension services and finance. A project supporting rural youth employment as an alternative to migration would often include support to the government in developing a rural youth employment strategy, fostering policy coherence and collaboration between ministries and other actors, analysing agricultural value chains for youth employment potential, and providing employment, entrepreneurship and incubation support. And a forced displacement project – working with refugees or internally displaced persons - would usually focus on ensuring food and nutrition security, rebuilding livelihoods, sustainable management of natural resources and social cohesion between migrants and host communities.

How is this different from a typical FAO rural development or humanitarian project?

One way it differs is in the targeting. On the drivers side of migration, this means targeting, for example, migration-prone youth or areas where climate and environment factors are affecting people’s livelihoods and putting them at greater risk of displacement. It also means working with migrants themselves, for example migrant workers in agriculture whose rights are at risk, people who have been displaced, or migrants who are in a position to invest back in their communities of origin and support the development of sustainable agrifood systems back home.

It also involves tailoring of the activities to these specific target groups, considering - for instance - differences between those who receive remittances and those who don’t, in communities of origin, or differences between migrants and host communities in access to information, services and natural resources, such as land. And taking into account tensions that can exist between these groups. This also applies to returnees to rural areas – something we are seeing a lot of in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic - and support to their socio-economic reintegration.

It includes addressing additional challenges that these target groups may face, both through the selection and the design of project activities as well as the actors who are involved. For instance, bringing together agriculture, labour and migration-related ministries.    

Beyond country projects, how is FAO engaged at regional and global level?

FAO is an active member of the UN Network on Migration, participating in the Network at global, regional and country level. At global level, we are currently contributing to the Network’s technical working groups on data, bilateral labour migration agreements, access to services, and return and reintegration, to bring forward the rural and agricultural dimensions of migration and contribute FAO expertise and experience in these areas. We also contribute to the Global Forum on Migration and Development, bringing forward the rural perspectives. For example, last year we supported the government roundtable on harnessing migration for rural transformation.

At global and regional level, we are also engaged in knowledge generation, capacity development and the development of related guidance and tools to support these areas of work. For instance, we developed an atlas of rural migration movements in sub-Saharan Africa, and have produced a series of E-learning courses on topics such as migration and youth, gender and migration, and migration and protracted crisis.  

Where can I find more information on this topic?

First, I would suggest you take a look at the FAO Migration Framework. The full version is available in English, Spanish, French and Arabic. There’s also a summary version in English, Spanish, French, Chinese and Russian. The Framework is rich with explanations, examples and tools to support work on rural migration.

For additional resources, you can also take a look at FAO’s corporate migration website as well as the thematic websites onmigration in general and specifically on forced displacement within FAO’s Economic and Social Development Stream.