On 7th November 2019, the Baha’i International Community and the EU Policy Lab of the Joint Research Centre hosted a discussion amongst experts from the EU Commission’s agriculture and development departments, academia, representatives of farmers’ organizations and civil society to consider the links between agricultural policies, rural knowledge and migration. This was the third in a series of discussions concerned with how to mobilise non-migration policies, and agricultural policies in particular, to support the implementation of the objectives outlined in the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.
The Global Compact is rooted in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, recognising that migration is inextricably bound to the models of development in countries of origin, transit and destination. To this end, participants raised questions about the extent to which certain development models are sustainable and the ways in which development can unintentionally increase rural out-migration. The discussion focused on the types of development in rural settings and their direct and indirect effects on migration patterns.
In order to ground the discussion within a specific context, one participant shared some insights from empirical research conducted in rural Jinja, Uganda. His research described how particular agricultural transformations in rural settings had weakened the security of rural livelihoods and made migration a coping strategy. For example, for a few decades now agri-business models have focused on the growth of sugarcane for large factories as a way to boost rural development. However, the most common outcome for smallholder farmers incorporated into this value chain was that of land dispossession. This, among other practices, led to insufficient access to land for families and the degradation of the soils fertility. As a result, this short-term focus on profit undermined rural livelihoods in the medium and long term. Furthermore, in models of development that favour industrialization, cities become the pinnacles of growth and economic activity leaving rural livelihoods relatively undesirable. Young people involved in the research articulated their concerns with the precarity of rural life. A conclusion for many has been that both internal and international migration is a desirable way to deal with these challenges.
Participants noted that the EU’s External Investment Plan in many ways promotes industrial agricultural production, with the use of agribusiness-led value chains to integrate smallholder farmers within commercial circuits. Although this has stimulated growth in some sectors, it can inadvertently leave smallholder farmers devoid of opportunities to participate meaningfully in local and global markets. While it is of no use to fall into the dichotomy of smallholder farmers versus industrialized models of rural development one participant noted “it is important to recognize the need to diversify farming and to embrace the various possibilities that exist for empowering local livelihoods.”
Policies with a long-term vision should work towards lifting off the narrative of deficit and lack of opportunity in rural areas across the world. In this context, policy coherence between various policy areas stood out as highly relevant for the participants. Assessing systematically the likely effects of different EU policy initiatives on other countries is a requirement based on Article 208(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). One participant underlined thisas a useful better regulation tool at the EU’s disposal, with the potential to address the social, cultural, environmental and economic spill over effects of policies. Yet, this tool is currently not utilized to its potential and the impact assessment focuses predominantly on economic impacts. Given that the transboundary impacts of policies are highly complex with many elements weaved into one another, the participants agreed that cross-sectoral and systemic thinking need to be at the forefront of policy analysis and impact assessment.
Shifting the debate towards agricultural policies and practices in Europe, a participant engaged in European agriculture highlighted the uneven position of farmers in Europe and Africa: “How come that is it easier for me to produce powdered milk and send it from Belgium to Kampala than it is for my Ugandan colleague to transport fresh milk from his village to the capital?” Despite these obvious inequalities related to infrastructure, there are also similar obstacles that young farmers in Europe and Africa share such as access to land, finance and the general perception of farming as a determined future rather than a desirable choice.
The discussion then turned to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. Some participants advocated phasing out agricultural subsidies while others argued that without the subsidies, smallholder farmers would not survive in Europe and the consumers could not be able to buy their food for the prices they are used to now. There was, however, some agreement that the agricultural policies need to both protect farmers and encourage growth and innovation in the agricultural sector.
Finally, participants acknowledged that to achieve sustainable agricultural and migration policies, we need to go beyond knowledge-sharing from Europe to Africa towards local knowledge-generation about visions of rural development, agricultural opportunities and the role of human mobility. It is important to integrate insights about livelihoods of rural communities and their organisations in origin and destination countries into policymaking. Ultimately, the conversation highlighted the need to explore how to shape policies in a way that ensures the well-being of all and does not put one part of the world at odds with another. The meeting concluded with a desire for another debate that would consider a case study where policy coherence has been a successful guiding principle driving change towards more sustainable livelihood patterns.
This post was co-authored with the Baha’i International Community Brussels Office