REPORT: Addressing Rural Youth Migration at its Root Causes: A Conceptual Framework, July 2016

Laura Deotti and Elisenda Estruch,
Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Resource Type: 
Publication Date: 
Mar, 2016

Migration is a common livelihood strategy for households across sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and North Africa. Despite structural differences, these two regions are facing major migration and youth employment challenges. The literature has mainly concentrated on international migration. Similarly, migration policies have mainly tried to mitigate the potential risks and/or maximize the benefits of international migration. However, a much greater number of people migrate inside their own country, and mainly out of rural areas. If the root causes of migration remain unaddressed, an increasing number of rural households will revert to migration out of distress.

The number of young migrants increased from 23.2 million in 1990 to 28.2 million in 2013 (UNICEF, 2014). At household level, young members may move to work elsewhere as part of the household’s risk diversification strategy but also in response to the household’s expectation of higher returns in the future or to personal aspirations. In particular, rural youth are those more likely to migrate in response to the lack of gainful employment and entrepreneurial opportunities in agriculture and related rural economic activities. Rural youth in SSA and North Africa are particularly disadvantaged. Relatively low official youth unemployment rates in SSA mask endemic underemployment and the large number of poor quality informal jobs. On the other hand, youth unemployment rates in North Africa are among the highest in the world.

This paper develops a conceptual framework about how agricultural and rural development policies can reduce the need for distress migration of rural youth; and how rural youth migration and remittances can contribute to sustainable agriculture and rural development, poverty reduction and food security in the areas of origin.

The conceptual framework recognizes that distress migration is a complex phenomenon requiring integrated approaches which both address the root causes of distress migration and emphasize the positive impacts of migration for rural areas. Indeed, a wide range of issues and situations determine the decision to migrate, including local factors and stages of structural transformation, as well as household and individual characteristics. Likewise, the impacts of migration on the rural areas of origin can vary enormously.

Based on available evidence, it may be concluded that within the ongoing processes of sustainable agricultural intensification and structural rural transformation in SSA and North Africa, the root causes of distress migration of rural youth need to be addressed by offering more and better on-farm and off-farm employment opportunities. The subsequent reduction in rural poverty and improvement of food security can contribute to ease migratory pressures.

This conceptual framework identifies a number of key areas for intervention at policy and programme levels:

First, obtain a better understanding of the drivers and impacts of distress migration of rural youth, through improved data and increased evidence to subsequently inform policies and programmes. At present, there is only limited data available about the propensity to migrate of rural youth in SSA and North Africa and about the impacts of migration on agriculture and development in rural areas of origin. Comprehend the effectiveness of interventions to address the phenomenon at policy and programme level. A rigorous understanding and sound evidence are instrumental to raise awareness at global level by working in partnership and disseminating lessons learned.

Second, ensure that agriculture and rural development (ARD) policies and strategic planning processes account for migration, labour mobility and remittances, while ensuring policy coherence. This calls for an integrated set of actions, for example: (i) increase awareness on migration patterns, its determinants and impacts; (ii) provide technical support in strategic planning processes to address the root causes of migration, especially in terms of employment creation for rural youth; and (iii) develop the capacities of governments and rural stakeholders to mainstream migration aspects into ARD strategic planning.

Third, implement ARD programmes explicitly targeting rural youth to create viable on-farm and off-farm employment opportunities, which are productive, decent and in line with youth aspirations. There is an urgent need to engage youth in agriculture and to allow them to realize their full productive and innovative potential. Therefore, programmatic interventions should accelerate the growth of agricultural and rural sectors and value chains with high value added per worker and create decent job opportunities for rural youth, combining on-the-job training, employment-centred agro-investments (both in-farm and off-farm activities) and promotion of small and medium agro-enterprises (SMAEs). Innovative mechanisms establishing facilities to support migrants’ investments in agriculture, through remittances and diaspora funds, should also be piloted and scaled up.

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