The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has just released its annual State of Food and Agriculture report. This is FAO’s major annual flagship report and aims at bringing to a wider audience balanced science-based assessments of important issues in the field of food and agriculture.

This year, the report placed a lot of focus on migration and the impact thereof on agriculture and rural development.

Core messages of SOFA 2018


Migration is an expanding global reality, one that allows millions of people to seek new opportunities. But it also involves challenges for migrants and for societies, both in areas of origin and of destination. This report analyses migratory flows, internal and international, and how they are linked to processes of economic development, demographic change and natural-resource pressure. The focus is on rural migration, the many forms it takes and the important role it plays in both developing and developed countries. The report investigates the drivers and impacts of rural migration and highlights how related policy priorities depend on country contexts that are in continuous evolution. These priorities will be different for countries in protracted crises, countries where rural youth employment is a challenge, countries in economic and demographic transition, and developed countries in need of migrant workers, not least to support agriculture and rural economies.

Migration is part of the evolution of societies

The last century has witnessed dramatic changes in international migration flows, which have occurred alongside one of the most sweeping transformations in human society: the transition from predominantly rural to increasingly urban societies, in which internal migration, particularly from rural to urban areas, has played a major role. Globally, internal migration is a significantly larger phenomenon than international migration, and an essential component of the process of economic development.

Based on 2015 data, more international migrants have moved between developing countries (38%  of the total stock of international migrants) than from a developing to a developed country (35%).

Rural migration is central to economic transformation

The large flows of internal migration described in this report suggest that reallocation of labour resources in many developing countries is contributing to economic transformation and development. Nevertheless, internal migration will continue to be closely interlinked with international migration as potential migrants are particularly attracted to opportunities in countries with higher levels of income and overall development. While this can contribute to improving the prospects of international migrants, there are also negative aspects to this process. Although they may send back remittances and other benefits, migrants essentially represent a productive resource that is being diverted out of their respective country or area of origin.

Immigrants play a crucial role in supporting agriculture and rural areas in developed countries

For many developed countries experiencing rural depopulation, international migrants can contribute to the development of rural areas by filling labour shortages in agriculture. In North America and Europe for instance, foreign labour constitutes the backbone of agricultural production. However, protection of labour rights and the working conditions of migrants are often poor. In many rural areas agricultural labourers often work informally, earn less than legal salaries and are subject to exploitation. Providing decent working conditions for migrant agricultural workers can ensure that the migration experience is positive both for migrants and their host countries.

The challenge for policy-makers is to maximise the benefits of rural migration while minimising the negative effects

As much as possible, migration must be a voluntary decision made by migrants, based on real and informed choices. In terms of rural migration, this involves creating attractive rural livelihood opportunities. It also requires removing constraints to rural migration and facilitating regular migration for those who decide to move, as well as developing human capital in rural areas through training and skills development, allowing prospective migrants to take advantage of opportunities. Furthermore, this involves preventing crises that lead to forced migration and limiting the negative impacts on migrants and host communities.

Rural migration will continue to be an essential element of processes of economic and social development. Developing clear and coherent policies, both for migration and for rural development more broadly, is essential for a successful process of development that can benefit migrants, their areas of origin and their areas of destination. – Press release

Click here to read the full report.