FAO celebrates World Food Day each year on 16th October to commemorate the founding of the Organization in 1945. These events promote worldwide awareness and action for those who suffer from hunger and for the need to ensure food security and nutritious diets for all. World Food Day is a chance to show our commitment to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 – to achieve Zero Hunger by 2030. It’s also a day for us to celebrate the progress we have already made towards reaching Zero Hunger.
The theme of this years’ World Food Day: Change the future of migration – Invest in food security and rural development is highly relevant as over 65 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced from their homes by conflict, violence and persecution in 2015.
Root causes of distress migration
It is important to differentiate between migration, which is the result of a choice for better economic conditions, from that caused by conflict, distress, or forced migration and displacement. For those facing violence, severe human rights abuses, or other conflict related risks, the decision to leave their home is not an ‘option’, but rather a last resort in order to survive.
The increase in the number of conflicts, their complexity, their protracted nature, rural poverty and food insecurity, weak employment and income generating opportunities, inequality, limited access to social protection, the accelerated environmental degradation and increasing impacts of climate change worldwide results in a growing number of people forcibly displaced or migrating under distress than ever before.
We don’t need to look far away to realise the devastating impact of some of the root causes of migration and displacement. Right here in North-East Nigeria, since 2009, Boko Haram induced conflict continues to negatively impact the lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable – including children, women, girls, the elderly, among others, creating a large pool of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) and refugees; and once vibrant rural dwellers, now classified as “host communities.”
The latest information indicate that around 17 million people live in the affected areas across the four Lake Chad basin countries (Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria). More than 2.3 million people remain displaced (IDPs, refugees and returnees). In North-East Nigeria, about 8.5 million people are in need of life saving assistance and 6.9 million are targeted by the government and partners like FAO. As of September 2017, the 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) has raised about 64% of the total requirements of 1.05 billion USD for 2017.
Food insecurity and malnutrition have reached critical levels. The conflict has devastated agricultural livelihoods in various ways including massive displacement, destruction of agricultural activities, irrigation, farming facilities, farmlands, disruption of inputs and output markets, livestock losses, reduced access to fishing grounds, the collapse of extension services, etc. Furthermore, looting and fear of attacks have prevented farmers from working in their fields, leading to reduced harvests, loss of productive assets and extremely reduced household income levels.
Invest in food security and rural development
By investing more in sustainable food systems and rural development means we are showing our commitments to addressing some of the major global challenges – from feeding the world’s growing population to protecting the global climate, and tackling some of the root causes of migration and displacement.
More importantly, migration and displacement requires comprehensive longer-term solutions, through the coordination of humanitarian and development actions and actors. There is need to address the multiple and overlapping causes of crises and mitigate their consequences on migration and displacement. Promoting sustained investment and policy solutions towards strengthening the resilience of both displaced persons and host communities so that they have greater capacity to absorb, prepare for, adapt to and mitigate the impacts of crises, is also necessary to reduce the negative impact of migration and promote peaceful and sustainable solutions.
At the global level, FAO is working to address the root causes of migration. This means promoting policy options that favour vulnerable people. It includes youth job training and inclusive access to credit, crafting social protection programmes that offer cash or in-kind transfers, specific measures to support those returning to rural areas of origin, and offering assistance for the provision of seeds, fertilizers and animal-health services, fine-tuning early warning systems for weather related risks and by working for sustainable natural resource and land use.
Here in Nigeria, FAO is working in partnership with States and Federal Government to support the restauration of the livelihoods of affected people, focusing on returnees but also IDPs and Host communities. To help alleviate food insecurity in conflict-affected Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States, FAO provided and distributed to about 1 million IDPs, host community members and returnees enough seed and fertilizer to meet their food needs for six months. These constituted significant and sufficient amounts of cereal, cowpeas, vegetable seeds and fertilizer during the 2017 main agriculture season. The harvests have started and the outlook is favorable.
FAO also distributed 3,600 goats to 900 women-headed households to strengthen their livelihoods, increase their productive asset and generate incomes. This activity is still ongoing with goats and bull restocking targeting some 40,000 vulnerable HHs by the end of this year
Later in the month of October, FAO will launch its dry season program to assist around 70,000 farming households to bolster their capacity to grow food, thereby reducing impact of the food crisis, improve nutritional status and aid income generation.
On this World Food Day 2017, we should all reinforce our belief that “The right to food is a basic human right” and “Achieving the 17 SDGs cannot happen without ending hunger, and without having sustainable and resilient, climate-compatible agriculture and food systems that deliver for the people and the planet,”
Safe, orderly and regular migration can contribute to economic growth and improve food security and rural people’s lives, thus advancing progress in reaching the SDGs. Migrants can build the economy in their countries of origin through remittances and investments, or by bringing new skills to their community, if they decide to go back. They can also contribute to the development of host communities by filling labor shortages, bringing different skill sets and knowledge, and having a positive impact on demographic trends.
We need to invest more in rural development through innovative policies that create business opportunities and jobs for young people that are not only agriculture-based. Rural development can create conditions whereby people, especially youth, do not feel obliged to abandon their lands. It can lead to better access to social protection, efficient management of resources and more productive and sustainable food systems.
We need to stand together in solidarity against acts of discrimination and call on leaders to make migration safe, orderly and regular.
-Koroma is the country representative of Food and Agriculture Organization in Nigeria.