What are you going to eat for dinner tonight? Maybe some pasta, moussaka or pirogi, sitting comfortably at home or in a restaurant… It's a simple question for many of us, one we don't even think twice about. But for millions of people worldwide, the question is much more fundamental: do I have something to eat at all? And do I have to leave my home just to survive?
According to the United Nation's world food security report, 815 million people faced serious hunger in 2016 – that is more than one and a half times the entire population of the European Union. There are numerous reasons why so many millions are affected by this issue, from conflict to climate change, and the need for food and shelter is one of the primary reasons for many of the migrant flows across the world today. In 2015, there were 244 million international migrants, 40% more than in 2000.
A large share of these migrants come from rural areas where more than 75% of the world's poor and food-insecure depend on agriculture and natural resource-based livelihoods, according to figures from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
Linkages between migration, food insecurity and rural development are complex. Food security – the simple fact of ensuring that everyone has enough food to meet their needs – has always been a core objective of the common agricultural policy, both within the EU and globally. Within its member countries, the EU invests in viable food production, sustainable management of natural resources and a balanced territorial development. At international level, the EU stands for multilateralism and open, rules based and fair trade: the EU is, by far, the world's largest importer of agricultural products from least developed countries, reaching €3.4 billion worth agri-food imports in 2016.
But EU support for developing countries is not just about trading favourably with them: between 2014 and 2020, the EU will invest more than €8.5 billion in food security, nutrition and sustainable agricultural programmes and projects in 62 partner countries across the world, of which 36 alone are in Sub-Saharan Africa. The funding is designed to complement the EU's aid and trade approach by helping promote responsible private sector investment in developing countries, encouraging investments that avoid land grabbing, ensuring a decent return to farmers, and recognising farmers' central role in the food supply chain.
Rural depopulation is a challenge for every region of the world. In Europe, the EU's response to this challenge comes through rural development policy and funding, focusing on a plethora of issues ranging from fostering high speed access to the internet or village renewal to farm and business development. These experiences and approaches are also shared with the EU's partner countries, for example through regular exchanges with the African Union countries, or through projects such as young farmers' exchange schemes.
Agriculture is the building block of human society: without food and health, nothing else matters. The agri-food sector is vital to achieve food security, but also to provide jobs and growth in rural areas – tackling one of the root causes of irregular migration.
As highlighted in the future of food and farming communication, published on 29 November 2017, the future common agricultural policy (CAP) should play a larger role in addressing the root causes of migration. Knowledge sharing along with financial investments should contribute to the development of employment opportunities in regions of origins and transit of migrants.
In addition EU-Africa Union cooperation should carry on and deepen, especially on agricultural research and innovation. Moreover the CAP's rural development arm can help to settle and integrate legal migrants and refugees in rural communities.