If countries of the Mediterranean want to stem the tide on forced migration and human suffering, they must put agricultural, food and rural development at the core of regional cooperation, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said.
Speaking at the Euro-Mediterranean Conference on Agriculture in Palermo, Italy, the FAO Director-General stressed the connection between agriculture and migration and the importance of investing in strong rural livelihoods, particularly for youth.
“We need to find alternatives to raise the incentives for the youth to engage in rural activities, such as farming, livestock production, fisheries and aquaculture in their own communities and countries,” he said.
Opportunities for rural youth
Increasing agro-entrepreneurship and employment opportunities for rural youth needs to be at the center of strategies to combat poverty and boost development, Graziano da Silva said, referring to rural youth as the future of the agriculture sector, particularly in the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean countries.
Migration of young people – particularly young men — away from rural areas has left behind lopsided community structures that have also placed a disproportionate burden on women who stay behind to take care of children and the elderly, he said.
The creation of meaningful and inclusive opportunities for youth in agriculture and agribusinesses will not only impact their lives, but substantially improve livelihoods in their rural communities, the economies and the resilience of their home countries, the region and the world, according to the FAO Director-General.
Special attention needs to be paid to climate change, environmental degradation, and scarcity of land and water in regional cooperation, he added.
“Forced migration is the corollary of fear, despair and hunger,” said Graziano da Silva, who spoke of a worsening crisis amidst a doubling in the number of informal border crossings into Europe, 85 percent of which occur through the Mediterranean.
Referring to last year’s shipwreck off the Italian island of Lampedusa that cost the lives of several hundred migrants, Graziano da Silva echoed a recent call by the Pope to prevent the Mediterranean from becoming a vast cemetery.
Tackling mass migration requires addressing its root causes, including wars, ethnic conflicts and extreme poverty, Graziano da Silva said, urging cooperation based on solidarity.
“Doors often close in times of crisis. Solidarity helps us open its locks and work together for inclusive and sustainable development,” he said.
Initiatives for cooperation
The FAO Director-General highlighted three regional initiatives in which FAO participates to strengthen cooperation among Mediterranean countries.
The Mediterranean Agricultural Markets Information Network provides better and updated information about prices and stock for the most important commodities. The Mediterranean Animal Health Network established by FAO and the World Animal Health Organization works with 13 countries to control transboundary animal diseases, while the FAO-CIHEAM network for small ruminants enhances cooperation among scientists, decision-makers and producer organizations in the Mediterranean.
Cooperation to boost investment in rural development and opportunities for youth will not only lift the resilience of communities and regions, said Graziano da Silva: “I am positive that it will also help to regenerate the strength of solidarity in our time.”