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Migration and food security

The increasing migration from rural to urban areas within India is directly impacting the country’s food security.

Migration and food security

Migration, as a growing phenomenon, is a critical determinant in shaping global economic, political, and social policies. And while migration has been a source of economic and cultural benefits, the recent global trends are indicative of the travesties faced by populations, who migrate due to the lack of food security and prevailing conflict.

A large share of migrants come from rural areas where more than 75 per cent of the world's poor are food insecure and depend on agricultural and natural resource-based livelihoods. These are the reasons why the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations has coined the slogan of this year's World Food Day as, "Change the Future of Migration. Invest in food security and rural development."
Migration towards urban centres is a critical trend that will shape food security and nutrition, in the near future. The percentage change in India's annual urban population is higher than the global average, indicating a rapid pace of internal migration. It is estimated that by 2050, more than 50 per cent of the Indian population would be residing in urban areas. Globally, just three countries—China, India, and Nigeria—are expected to add 900 million urban residents by 2050. Since migration in India is largely from rural to urban areas, the ways in which we manage the expansion of urban areas, in the future, will be critical for ensuring agricultural growth and global food security.
Agricultural production is critical for achieving food security, since, close to 99 per cent of the food consumed is supplied by agriculture. Agriculture, on the other hand, is already under stress from environmental degradation, climate change, and an increased conversion of land for non-agricultural activities. Furthermore, the shift in population centres arising out of migration has accelerated the triple burden of malnutrition—the coexistence of hunger (insufficient calorie intake to meet dietary energy requirements), undernutrition (prolonged inadequate intake of macro and micronutrients), and over-nutrition in the form of overweight and obesity. Migrants to urban centres face challenges around accessing nutritious food, adequate employment, social protection, housing, and water and sanitation facilities. This poses additional challenges to the government to ensure, not only livelihood security for the population, but also tackle impediments pertaining to food and nutrition security.
The consequence of migration also multiplies the opportunities for food security, sustainable agriculture, and rural development. For instance, loss of human capital and agricultural labour may have negative impacts on crop production and food availability. At the same time, traditional food value chains are being transformed to meet the demands from urban centres. Increased commercial flows of agricultural goods, diet transformation, and the transformation of commercial markets in meeting urban food demands are causing food value chains to evolve. The growing use of modern inputs, information and communication technologies, and linking rural producers to wealthy urban consumers are important aspects of these changing trends.
A sustainable solution to the issue of migration must focus on fostering rural-urban economic linkages; enhancing and diversifying rural employment opportunities, especially for women and youth; enabling the poor to better manage risks through social protection; and leveraging remittances for investments in the rural sector as viable means for improving livelihoods and alleviating distress-induced migration.
Sustainable agriculture and rural development offer us a way to tackle the root causes of migration, including poverty, hunger, inequality, unemployment environmental degradation and climate change, which together form a nexus. Keeping this in mind, FAO has been playing a catalytic role in partnering with international financing institutions and state governments by assisting them to design agricultural and rural development projects that bring crucial investment, technologies, and knowledge sharing to rural areas of the country.
With time, the population that continues to be employed in agriculture will also need to adapt to changing technologies and markets. As has been demonstrated widely, technology can greatly alleviate the hardship of farmers and help them adapt to the demands of the market. It is, therefore, necessary to increase the productivity and income of the agriculture workforce by focusing on the specialisation of their skills, both in the production and post-production stages, like storage, packaging, and transportation, to reduce waste and to enhance food safety.
With the hardships that small and marginal farmers have to endure, it is not hard to explain the exodus of large youth populations. Unless the hardship in farming is reduced and issues pertaining to health, nutrition and other social and physical infrastructure are not addressed holistically, migration will occur due to distress and not as a prudent choice.
(The author is FAO representative in India. The views expressed are strictly personal.)

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