27 November 2012

Southern Africa: Migration Needs to Be Seen From a Food Security Perspective

press release

Cape Town — Migration on a global level needs to be seen from the point of view of food security so that the crucial reciprocal relationship between the two issues can be understood and managed, said Prof Jonathan Crush, CIGI chair in global migration and development at the Balsillie School of International Affairs and honorary professor at the University of Cape Town.

“There is a profound disjuncture between the institutions responsible for food security and those responsible for migration,” he told a Nov 26-27 conference on “Migration, Urbanisation and Food Security in Cities of the Global South” in Cape Town.

The conference is hosted by the African Food Security Urban Network (AFSUN), the African Centre for Cities, the Southern African Migration Programme, the International Migration Research Centre, the Municipal Development Partnership and the International Metropolis Project.

When the Millennium Development Goals were drawn up, “migration was seen in terms of a brain drain and was too contentious an issue to warrant consideration,” said Prof Crush, who also leads AFSUN. However, since 2000 migration has become a major issue on the global development agenda, largely due to the efforts of the World Bank and similar institutions.

The African Union developed a common position on migration and development in 2006 with the perspective that migration has positive development outcomes for countries of origin. These include remittance flows that reduce poverty and promote development and the “win-win” situation of temporary circular migration.

But in none of these discussions or documents was there any mention at all of food security and the role people’s need to feed their families played in their decision to move, Prof Crush said.

As food security gained attention on the global development agenda, its definition and scope narrowed.

“Food security is viewed as being exclusively about agriculture, production and rural smallholders,” he said.

Questions that need urgent attention from global, national and local policy-makers include: Is the rural-urban divide an artificial construct, and how are the hungry cities of the Global South going to be fed?

Delegates heard comparative perspectives on urban food security in Southern Africa, India, China and the Caribbean.

Dr Rukmani Ramani, an expert in urban food security in India, said that migrant workers are the most vulnerable and exploited workers in India’s informal sector. “Hunger is a political problem – it is not caused by lack of food but rather by a lack of democracy,” she said.

Delegates heard that while there is increased migration of women in southern Africa, women’s ability to leave their homes to work in other countries is largely shaped by their age, income, age of their children, occupation and marital status.

Dr Godfrey Tawodzera of the University of Cape Town discussed the findings of AFSUN’s food security research in 11 cities in Southern Africa and said that coping strategies, particularly in Harare, Zimbabwe, include combining households and sharing meals.

Migrating so as to be able to send money home was a major coping strategy. “Migrants would rather starve than have their children go hungry - they always remit,” he said.

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