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People on the move don't plant crops: The impact of refugees and migrants on food security
by Rene Wadlow
2017-10-16 09:18:59
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16 October is World Food Day, a yearly reminder that there are people who are constantly hungry due to poor agricultural methods, inadequate distribution, poor food storage, and armed conflict.  The date was chosen to commemorate the founding of the U.N. agency Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome, Italy in 1945.  Rome was chosen as the League of Nations International Institute of Agriculture was there, and the FAO is a continuation of earlier work of the Institute. The 2017 theme for the Day is "Change the future of migration: invest in food security and rural development".

food1_400Today, there are more people on the move than at any time since the end of the fighting of the Second World War which had seen the movement of a large number of prisoners-of-war, displaced people, and people wanting to start life again in more peaceful countries.  Now we have people who are refugees (that is, have crossed a State frontier) and internally displaced persons due to armed conflict: Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Myanmar (Burma), Darfur-Sudan, Afghanistan, Libya, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and parts of Nigeria, Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia.  The refugees from Mali are a reminder that in addition to armed conflicts there are "climate refugees".  The whole of the Sahel from Mauritania to Ethiopia has a deadly combination of weak and unstable governments as well as a multiple-year drought, which may be an indication of permanent climate change.  The Sahel States were French colonies until 1960, and so a good number of people try to get to France. They usually go through Libya where they meet more violence and people taking advantage of their weaknesses.  Crossing the sea in unsafe boats is the next dangerous challenge. The European States have had very mixed responses to this flow of refugees and migrants but rarely welcoming.  The USA talks of building walls, imposing travel bans and deporting migrants.

Today, cooperation is needed among the U.N. family of agencies, national governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), academic institutions, and the millions of food producers to respond to the food crisis.  The world must pull together to ensure that emergency needs are met and longer-term measures are taken.  Short-term action requires additional funding for the U.N. World Food Programme and the release of national food stocks.  However, it is the longer-range and structural issues  to which the theme of "invest in food security and rural development calls our attention.

wc00The aim of world food security was set out clearly at the World Food Conference in Rome in November 1974 by the then US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger who declared that the bold objective of the Conference was that "within a decade, no child will go hungry, no family will fear for its next day's bread, and no human being's future and capacity will be stunted by malnutrition."  Kissinger articulated well the goals of food security not as an abstract government policy but in the lives of the individual and the family.  40 some yeas later, the goal can be repeated, and we must ask why the same issues remain.

We need to look carefully at the causes of armed violence and its negative impact on agricultural production.  Especially we need to look at ways of resolving armed conflicts as the impact of violence on agricultural production and needed infrastructure is fairly obvious.  The impact of climate change also requires analysis and advanced planning. In addition, there is a need to study the wide-spread migration of people from rural areas to cities. To slow this rural to urban flow there must be an improvement of the quality of rural life.

World Food Day helps us to set priorities for focused research and especially action.


Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens

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