20 Nov, 2018

Food and Migrations. The Mediterranean Perspective

by Lucio Caracciolo

We tend to think of Europe and Africa as of two distinct continents. In fact, there is an area in which they are almost one: the Mediterranean Region. We already live in a kind of Eurafica. And what binds together is migration.

The Mediterranean area is the fault line between migratory flows coming from sub-Saharan Africa, through the Sahel and Northern Africa, heading for Europe.

The nutrition-migration link is one the most relevant factors that influence the movement and nutrition culture of individuals and populations, both regards to countries of origin and host countries.

According to the World Food Program, “the greatest refugee outflows are from countries not only experiencing armed conflict but also the highest level of food insecurity. At the same time, food insecurity increases the likelihood and intensity of armed conflicts throughout the Mediterranean Region and in Africa”.

In the Southern Mediterranean shore countries and generally in Africa, the emphasis falls on the causes of a perverse circuit involving nutrition and migration. The links that form this chain include skyrocketing demographic growth, inadequate nutrition, retardation of physical growth and cognitive abilities, the spreading of chronic diseases with obvious consequences on productivity and the economic conditions of individuals and the community.

Today Africa imports food for 35 billion dollar a year. By 2025 this amount will increase to 110 billion. More food demand plus less food production will mean more food import, more costs and more suffering. And a devastating food deficit.

In the Northern Mediterranean countries and in Europe as a whole, food turns out to be above all a central factor in the integration of migrants in European host countries. Nutrition has increasingly become a distinctive element of identity (also the religious identity) of individuals and communities. The spreading of eating habits and customs from the southern hemisphere, especially from Africa, is changing the European cultural panorama. It is not only a question of diet or preferences, but of the introduction of new cultural codes through the ingredients, rules and cuisine imported by immigrants. This is reflected and will increasingly reflect on the food industry and markets in Europe and, generally speaking, in the northern hemisphere. It is therefore essential for integration projects to be gauged not only on basic linguistic and cultural aspects, but also on food.

Of course, the often underestimated link between food and migrations has to be considered in the context of the many aspects that affect it.

Starting with geopolitical trends: conflicts, State fragility or even new, huge geopolitical black holes like Libya, terrorism, lack of regional cooperation, great powers competition about African and Mediterranean resources.

Number two: demography (1.3 billion people in Africa, who will double by 2050, versus 600 million Europeans, inevitably decreasing, with incredible gaps as far as expectation of life and median age are concerned).

And, most importantly, climate change – which variously affects both the Northern and Southern Mediterranean shores, with disruptive effects especially on African agriculture, thus on food.

A substantial warming and a consequent drying, with acute drought crises, is expected across the Trans-Mediterranean region. Up to 2035, an increase of about 0.70 degrees Celsius is predicted, affecting not only the Middle East and North Africa, but also Mediterranean and most strikingly Central Europe. This will bring about a water crisis, further desertification, with fundamental, tragic impacts on agriculture and food production especially in Africa. The surface of the Sahara desert increased by 10% in the last decade. The Lake Tchad, where the Romans stopped their African expansion believing that it was an ocean, is now not much more than a swamp.

By 2030 about 200 million Africans may live in areas of high water stress. Never forget that agriculture and livestock production combined consume more fresh water than any other human activity. And that 50% of food is produced by just four crops: maize, wheat, rice, soybean.

Recommendations, also in view of the Global Migration Compact to be adopted in December by the UN General Assembly at the Marrakesh Conference:

1) Recognizing that safe and regular migration is beneficial for States and migrants, thus facilitating regular channels of migrations which are now almost non-existant in the Trans-Mediterranean region. Which means reframing the image of migrants on both sides of the Sea, especially in Europe. Here media will play an essential role.

2) Empowering African women is the key to demographic transition, to demographic sustainability, that is reducing poverty and the need of food.

3) Investing in the development of the countries of origin, developing sustainable agro-food supply chains. This could be done partially by international aid, but more efficiently by supporting local agriculture with new technologies and by crops diversification.

4) Developing energy projects, especially solar. In this area, new technologies, also available to local communities and young entrepreneurs, are already making progress. We should concentrate on bottom-up processes made possible by new technologies also for the production of electricity, which consumes huge amounts of water.

5) Between 2015 and 2030 about 6,5 trillion dollar will be sent by migrants to low and middle income countries – many of them South of the Mediterranean, in Africa.
We should develop schemes which would be specially addressed to developing sustainable agro food supply chains. Assuring that an essential amount of migrant’s remittances, which are now one of the main “foreign direct investment” source from Europe to Africa will be channeled to agriculture and food production is key for peace and development in the whole continent and in the Transmediterranean Region. International financial aid is needed, but less relevant. Fact is that those countries which receive less international aid perform better than those which receive more.

6) Opening the Transmediterranean region to some kind of relatively free trade. The EU is de facto an almost closed market for Africa, which is not sustainable and will only enhance trafficking of every kind, including human beings. We should also support the creation of free trade areas in Africa, such as the African Continental Free Trade Area.

7) Spreading Web connections for better information and for better access to information for everybody. The Transmediterranean gap, in this context, is astonishingly big: 600 million Africans are still not Web connected.

8) Enhancing the contribution of the migrant’s food cultures within the countries of destination, encouraging exchanges between indigenous and non-native communities. This must be done especially between second generations, where the decisive game concerning integration is played out.

A final remark about the Transmediterranean region. In fact, we already live in a kind of Eurafrica. Unfortunately, the bonds that link us today are not particularly inspiring and tend to increase mistrust and conflict. A better Eurafrica is possible. By making the nexus between food and migration a success story, one day this dream may become reality.