(MENAFN - Daily Outlook Afghanistan) Theword 'migration conjures images of war, natural disaster, and severe economicdistress. All are important reasons why people seek refuge far from home. Butthe single most powerful driver of migration may well be food – or, rather, thelack of it.
As of 2017, some 821 million peopleworldwide – about one in every nine – faced chronic food deprivation. Whilesome progress has been made to reduce extreme hunger, the overall number ofchronically hungry people continues to rise.
The link with migration is clear. Whenpeople in Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America cannot feed themselves andtheir families, they often leave home. According to a study by the UnitedNations World Food Programme (WFP), each percentage-point increase in foodinsecurity increases refugee outflows by 1.9%.
Those facing food insecurity often demandbetter conditions at home. In the Arab world, 'bread riots have eruptedregularly since the mid-1980s. Increases in food prices, particularly forwheat, triggered the Arab Spring protests that began in Tunisia in 2010.
If initial food shortages were not enoughto motivate a person to migrate, the ensuing social unrest and conflict oftenare, not least because they further strain food supplies. As the WFP reports,food insecurity is 'a significant determinant of the incidence and intensity ofarmed conflict. For each additional year of conflict, refugee outflowsincrease by 0.4%.
According to the Observatory on Food andMigration, many migrants are single men, who leave their female relativesbehind to run their depleted farms. In North Africa, women now account for 43%of all farmers, according to the World Bank – up from about 30% in 1980.
These women operate at a significantdisadvantage. For example, the World Bank reports that, in Latin America, 'whenwomen take on primary responsibility for the family farm, they face certaingender-specific difficulties, including difficulties hiring and supervisinglabor and acquiring technical knowledge about farming.
Similarly, though female farmers represent70% of Senegal's workforce, the Observatory on Food and Migration reports thatonly men are allowed to make decisions about agricultural production or farmoperations. This makes it extremely difficult to achieve strong farm output,exacerbating food shortages.
Those migrants who make it to Europe orthe United States often form the backbone of their new countries' agriculturalsectors. According to a study by the MacroGeo think tank and the Barilla Centerfor Food and Nutrition (BCFN), more than half of all farmworkers in southernItaly are migrants, and more than three million migrants work on Americanfarms. The US government estimates that about half of all farmworkers areundocumented immigrants.
Many of these workers live in conditionsresembling slavery, toiling in harsh conditions for very low wages. In SouthernItaly, for example, migrant farmworkers often have been recruited through theso-called caporalato system, in which criminal gangs – led by 'caporali –organize groups of migrant laborers, provide them with food and housing, andtransport them (for exorbitant fees) from their homes to the fields.
The laborers' workdays can last 16 hours,and when they return home, miniscule wages in hand, they face appalling livingconditions. In one reported case, 800 workers were found living with only fiveshowers.
Because the caporali's fee is deductedfrom workers' wages, farmers embrace this system, which also enables them toavoid payroll taxes. And those farmers – not just in Italy, but across Europeand in the US (where undocumented agricultural workers are similarly exploited)– often already benefit from generous subsidies, which encourage them toproduce too much food.
The surplus food may be exported at suchlow prices that farmers and food producers in developing countries cannotcompete. Or it may be wasted: according to the UN's Food and AgricultureOrganization, one-third of all food produced globally is either lost ordiscarded, in what amounts to a gross misuse of the resources – from labor towater – used to produce it.
The worst offenders are the mosttechnologically advanced countries, according to the Food Sustainability Index,produced by the BCFN and the Economist Intelligence Unit. In agriculturalsustainability rankings – which includes food waste – the US and the UnitedKingdom rank 45th and 49th, respectively, out of 67 countries.
In contrast, less developed countries showsome surprising successes. Latin America, East Asia, and the Pacific performwell on food loss and waste, with four countries from each region ranking inthe top 20. Ethiopia, Kenya, and India are also among the countries with strongstrategies for minimizing food loss.
A challenge as complex as migration cannotbe addressed simply through stricter immigration laws, let alone a border walllike the one US President Donald Trump seeks to build on his country's southernfrontier with Mexico. Instead, policymakers must tackle migration's underlyingcauses – beginning with a broken global food system.
For developed-country governments, thatmeans rethinking agricultural subsidies and implementing targeted policies toreduce food loss and waste. Developing-country governments, for their part,must take steps to mitigate gender inequality.
There is little time – and food – towaste.