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Granary in Flames – Studying the link between Russia’s war in Ukraine with food insecurity and migration in Africa

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A new study by the Joint Research Centre on the impact of the Russian war in Ukraine cautions against making direct connections between food insecurity and international migration. 

The Russian war in Ukraine is threatening to have an impact on global food insecurity. Russia and Ukraine are major exporters of food commodities and fertilizers. A reduction in these exports has been described as a potential driver of migration, especially from Africa to Europe. Public statements from political representatives and international organizations have also made a connection between food insecurity caused by the war and international migration flows.

A new study published by the European Commission Joint Research Centre (JRC) on the occasion of World Food Day 2022 explores the relationship between food insecurity and international migration, with a specific focus on Africa and the increased pressures on the global food systems created by the Russian war. Based on an analysis of existing research and knowledge, as well as a statistical analysis of Afrobarometer survey data, the study does not find strong evidence of a direct relationship between international migration and food insecurity.

International migration is not driven by food insecurity
While food insecurity can be a factor pushing people to move, this is not the main driver of migration – especially international migration. International migration flows are shaped by multiple drivers. Conflicts, as well as socio-economic and environmental factors, play a bigger role in people’s migration decisions. 

Migration is just one of the possible coping strategies
Migration is just one of many potential adaptations or coping strategies in response to food insecurity. Whether people decide to migrate or adopt other strategies depends on the resources at their disposal as well as the networks and connections they have in other regions or countries. Research shows that richer households tend to adopt other adaptation strategies and only migrate as a last resort. Poorer households are more likely to migrate as they often lack the options to adapt otherwise, but these movements are often temporary and local or regional. Migration provides resources to those who stay and to those who move.  Remittances represent an important tool for economic growth and poverty alleviation by ensuring a flow of financial resources from migrants to households in their countries of origin. Therefore, food insecurity or even a famine does not automatically lead to mass – or international – migration.

Food insecurity increases aspirations to migrate but not actual migration rates
The analysis of the Afrobarometer data covering 34 African countries for 2016-2018 indicates that there is no clear pattern relating to food insecurity and people’s intentions to migrate. Although people who are going without food might express the desire to migrate, survey data shows that few of them are preparing for the move. Food insecurity is actually likely to remove some of the resources that would be needed for moving to another country. 

Need to focus on people who are not able to migrate    
Migration, as an adaptation strategy to food insecurity, is not available to everyone. The poorest and most food-insecure households are the least likely to be able to move. When faced with food insecurity, people are more likely to use their scarce resources to seek alternative ways to feed their families or to invest in technologies to improve crop production, rather than fund a journey abroad. With fewer resources to cope with the sudden changes in food availability, those who cannot adapt or move elsewhere become even more vulnerable. These people will need to find other ways to adapt to the short-term pressures related to food scarcity caused by the war in Ukraine, in addition to the ongoing long-term challenges of rising food prices, climate change, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, it is important to shift the focus to the humanitarian impact of food insecurity and to implement measures to facilitate adaptation and mitigation strategies at the local level. 

This post highlights some key findings from our report, The granary in flames. Linking Russia's war in Ukraine with food insecurity and migration in Africa, and policy brief, What Russia’s war in Ukraine could mean for food security and migration.


Sona Kalantaryan

Project Officer, Joint Research Centre - European Commission

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