A migrant carrying sheaves of wheat in Italy | Credit: EPA/Khaled Elfiqi
A migrant carrying sheaves of wheat in Italy | Credit: EPA/Khaled Elfiqi

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization says that migrants can be agents of development, contributing to economic growth and improving food security and rural livelihoods.

According to Maria Helena Salgado, deputy director general for climate and natural resources at the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the organization believes that "investing in agriculture and sustainable development are key responses to migration." She was speaking at an event opening in Rome, focusing on the root causes of migration to support effective policies in the future.  

The day-long event this week focused on "Improving knowledge on the causes and impact of migrations for policies and programs that look at the future."

"We are working at all levels to build policies, to boost the ability of protagonists, in particular youths and women," Salgado said. 

Migrants help guarantee food safety 

Migrants are increasingly being integrated in Italy's agricultural sector, as well as in other European countries like Spain, said Yoan Molinero-Gerbeau, of the National Spanish research council. "We can say that migration in the Mediterranean and the presence of foreign workers have become a structural factor of the production process and contribute in guaranteeing food safety in Europe." 

Luca Maestripieri, director general of the Italian foreign ministry's directorate for cooperation, noted that, "inclusive growth is necessary in the Mediterranean and we need to invest in training to create a specialized workforce for a sustainable agriculture that respects the environment."

Maestripieri also stressed the need "to work for the integration of small producers, without forgetting that promoting the integration of women in the economy of rural areas is a key factor of social stability. We are cooperating with the private sector to attract responsible investments." 

The themes on the conference's agenda included the contribution that well-managed immigration can give to economic growth, poverty reduction and food security in the Mediterranean region through the exchange of knowledge and technologies. 

Apostolos Papadopoulos from the Harokopio University in Athens believes that "policies must be more proactive." He stressed the need to highlight the positive impact of immigration more than the difficulties it involves. In this respect, women have an important role, noted Leonardo Mizzi of the general directorate for international cooperation and development of the European Union. "They must be included more in programs and have a stronger voice in the decision-making process." 

First agriculture forum 

The event marked the first meeting of the Forum on agriculture, rural development and migration in the Mediterranean, created by the International Centre for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies (CIHEAM), FAO, the Union for the Mediterranean, under the patronage of the Italian foreign ministry.

Participants stressed the strong connection between migration and agriculture given that most migrants hail from poor rural areas with a high unemployment rate. Investing in the development of agriculture, the ability to adapt to climate change and resilience are key factors to be considered when dealing with the challenges posed by immigration in the Mediterranean, the debate highlighted. (Picture shows an Egyptian laborer carrying wheat sheaves at a field. Photo/Archive/EPA/KHALED ELFIQI).

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