30 June 2016

Fences, walls, aid and fairer trade: reflecting on international migrations

A recently published article on Global Issues, gives a different prespective on migration from that usually adopted by the media and most politicians. Written by Jose Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Andrew MacMillan (former Director of Operations at FAO), the article entitled “Fences and Walls: A Short-sighted Response to Migration Fears?” wisely reminds us that migration to rich countries, a driver of the increasing political weight gained by extremist and xenophobic movements, is only the tiny tip of a huge iceberg, the mass of which is constituted by internal migrations (mainly rural-urban) and migrations from one poor country to another where desperate people hope to better their lives.

The authors also remind us that the rural-urban drift has involved people in billions everywhere in the world, even in rich countries, over the last 60 years. To this, we can add that South-South international migration flows have been estimated in hundreds of millions. And estimates by the OECD, quoted in the article, of flows of migrants moving towards its (rich) member countries have reached only about 4 million annually since 2007, for a total population of around 1.3 billion people.

It clearly can be seen by all that migration towards OECD countries has therefore only represented approximately 0,3% of its total population annually, in other words has been almost negligible. That does not appear to be a flow that cannot be digested by rich countries, many of which need more labour force as the natural growth of their population tends to dwindle and will soon be insufficient to ensure continuity of their economic as well as social system. Can migration therefore reasonably justify throwing over board the basic principles that have guided us since the Enlightenment Century and even before?

The article rightly stresses that building fences and walls is expensive and will not stop migration effectively. When people run away from war, hunger, extreme poverty and/or political repression and have lost hope, nothing can stop them unless it is the improvement of the situation in their place of origin, achieved by addressing the root causes of migration and bringing peace and improvement of livelihoods, including income, adequate housing, clean water, energy, decent education, health services and social protection.

But we can reasonably ask: What has been done so far that is not ‘business as usual’?

Graziano da Silva and MacMillan note that “The European Union has endorsed the principle of addressing the root causes of migration from Africa to Europe and, at a November 2015 summit in Malta, declared that investing in rural development is a priority. However, the EU's nearly 30 members approved only EUR1.8 billion in extra resources. This is trivial, given the scale of poverty. It is about a quarter of what they offered Turkey to stem the flow of migrants into Europe.” And they continue: “Much greater funding is warranted. This is explicitly acknowledged in last September's unanimous endorsement by all governments of the UN-brokered Sustainable Development Goals, including the eradication of poverty and hunger by 2030. Apart from being morally correct, this will reduce the conflicts that often drive international migration in the first place.

But the question that we should as then is: will this declaration really lead to action? One may doubt it when aid flows are being reduced and focussed increasingly towards supporting private entities from donor countries for the development of their activities in recipient countries.

But aid is only one part of what would need to be done and the authors rightly suggest that “a more sustainable way of closing the urban-rural gap is offered by fairer trading in food, the main saleable output of most rural communities.

Graziano da Silva and MacMillan make the right diagnosis, but do not work through all its implications.

The idea of fairer prices has been the driving force behind the Fair Trade movement that has developed over the last 4 to 5 decades and that seeks to change in practice the way of conducting international trade, in order to reduce inequality and promote a sustainable development. But as of today, Fair Trade still only represents a microscopic share of world trade (much less than 0.1%) and efforts to include principles of a fairer trade into the recently approved Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has lamentably failed.

Yet this change in modalities of trade, which would be an effective way of fixing people in their area of origin, would not cost much to consumers, contrarily to a very widely shared belief. For example, a doubling of the price paid to the producers for widely internationally traded food products like cocoa, coffee or banana would only increase the consumer price by less than 10%. For other commodities, like garments, for example, the consumer price increase would be much less, in some cases less than 1%!

So the solution is known, as mentioned by the authors, but the world is not ready to implement it, and our countries prefer walls and fences, undermining our basic principles and giving increasing power to xenophobic and racists demagogues.


To know more:

  1. -Graziano da Silva, J. and  A. MacMillan, Fences and Walls: A Short-sighted Response to Migration Fears?”, Global Issues, June 2016

  2. -MacMillan, A., Lampedusa, Westgate and Famine in the Horn of Africa - It’s All too Easy to Forget, Opinions,, October 2013

Earlier articles on related to the topic:

  1. -Valletta Summit on migration: 1.8 billion euros for Africa to stop Africa-to-Europe migration - Illusion or irresponsibility?, November 2015

  2. -Strengths and weaknesses of the agreement reached at the Addis Ababa Conference on Financing for Development, July 2015

  3. -Intergenerational equity is possible, provided there is a fundamental change in the principles that govern the world, May 2015

  4. -International trade in agricultural commodities, March 2014

  5. -Insufficient support to agricultural development, November 2013


Last update:    June 2016

For your comments and reactions: