Empowering local communities to change the future of migration

In the drylands of northern Ethiopia, climate change is a formidable foe to the communities who make their home across the rugged landscape. In one such community, known as Abrha Weatsbha, the intertwined effects of desertification, soil degradation and persistent drought brought residents to the brink of resettlement. No longer able to provide from the land, this rural community faced increasingly bleak prospects.

The story of Abrha Weatsbha echoes the stories of many communities around the world. In the face of climate change, declining soil fertility, and lack of income diversification, migration has become the only option for many individuals and families to meet their basic needs. In 2015, there were 244 million international migrants, representing an increase of 40 percent since 2000, according to FAO. A large share of the migrants was from rural areas.

What does it take to change this trend? Although we often think of political instability as at the core of migration, this is only part of the story. Poverty, food insecurity, environmental degradation, climate change and socioeconomic inequality are all key drivers of migration.

On 16 October, we celebrate World Food Day, with the theme Change the future of migration. Invest in food security and rural development.

This year’s theme for World Food Day shines a light on the interlinked root causes of migration. It enables us to open a conversation about what can be done to address these root causes in order to ensure that migration is a choice, not a necessity.

Let’s return to the story of Abrha Weatsbha in Ethiopia. When resettlement and migration seemed like the only option, the Abrha Weatsbha community took an innovative approach to facilitate local development and enhance food security. Their strategies include reforestation, constructing water catchments and wells, planting high-value and drought-resistant crops and trees and promoting apiculture as an alternative livelihood strategy. These tactics have changed the lives of the local population. For the average community well user, food self-sufficiency is now possible for over nine months of the year; for 27 percent, food self-sufficiency is possible year-round.

Abrha Weatsbha Community is one of 223 Equator Prize winners recognized by the UNDP Equator Initiative partnership for their innovative work to forge nature-based solutions for sustainable development. A recent study analyzing 78 Equator Prize winners’ work on food security demonstrated that 98 percent use multiple strategies to achieve food security, with the majority of actions addressing: production system diversity, ecological diversity, soil fertility, market access and livelihood diversity. The analysis suggests that these types of strategies offer strong potential for replication and scaling to promote food security at broader scales. At the same time, the analysis emphasized the importance of diversified actions that enabled interventions to be tailored to unique local contexts.

This World Food Day, let us celebrate local action towards food security and rural development. Some 80 percent of the developing world’s agriculture is produced by smallholders, 80 percent of whom farm on plots of two hectares or smaller. It is from these farmers that resilient food security strategies will emerge.  Working hand in hand with local communities creates enduring change in rural areas and yields multiple dividends across the global agenda, helping us to address the underlying causes of migration and to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals.

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