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International Partnerships

Enriching rural communities through migration for sustainable agriculture

The agriculture sector in South Africa attracts migrant workers from across the region. When their skills are effectively channelled, and their labour rights protected, migrant workers have the potential to help improve agricultural value chains and accelerate sustainable development outcomes for themselves, their families and communities.

Africa is the youngest continent, full of energy, but at the same time, it is a continent with enormous unemployment… This is why sustainable agriculture and climate smart agriculture play a crucial role.

Rodrigo De Lapuerta, Director, FAO Liaison Office with the EU and Belgium

COVID-19 has highlighted the important role of migrant workers in our food systems. The pandemic is threatening to reverse significant gains in food security, nutrition, and livelihoods around the world. Efforts need to be stepped up to improve the sustainability of the agricultural sector, while also promoting decent work and employment in agribusiness. Migrants can and should be part of the solution.

Garry, a migrant worker, in the farm he supports as the packhouse manager
Garry, a migrant worker, in the farm he supports as the packhouse manager. © IOM

Garry is a migrant worker who manages the Packhouse on a farm in South Africa. Working in the agriculture sector interested him because it was an area he was already familiar with. He first started operating a forklift on the farm and was able to take on new tasks as others begin to realize his diverse skillset – from welding to mechanics. Building on these experiences, he has taken on a managerial role and is overseeing the work of the tomato and banana packhouses.

I had some experience welding and mechanically, just a little bit. They realized as time went on that this guy can easily adapt. Now I am the Packhouse Manager.

Garry, Migrant Worker from Zimbabwe

Since migrating from Zimbabwe, his skills and eagerness to grow professionally helped him find new opportunities. Garry now oversees 200 employees and has gained enough resources to provide for his family back home. The remittances he has been sending home have had a positive impact on the food security and nutrition as well as educational opportunities for his son, Garry explains. He is not only able to feed his family but also help improve the wider food systems in the region.

Food crops from a farm in South Africa that employs migrant workers
Food crops from a farm in South Africa that employs migrant workers. © IOM

Demonstrating how rural development interventions can take migration into account to enhance development outcomes, the EU-funded 'Mainstreaming Migration into International Cooperation and Development' (MMICD) project implemented by IOM produced a video to showcase this #MigrationConnection. The video highlights good practices implemented in South Africa, where the government has invested in training on sustainable agricultural techniques.

We train them to become farmers because we believe that if we empower them, the we will be empowering the nation.

August Shabangu, Production Manager

Collaboration is also taking place with Universities so that farmers can learn new agricultural techniques and students can receive practical experiences that build on innovative practices at local level. Through this training, participants can increase their knowledge-base and receive mentoring to further their career goals. Simultaneously, these efforts are “empowering the nation” by creating more jobs and supporting wider food systems. This ultimately strengthens the value chains of agriculture which span from harvesting to the consumer.

As we enter the “Decade of Action”, it is essential that the contribution of migrant workers to productive and sustainable agriculture is recognized, in order to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Target 2.4 of the SDGs calls on governments and development actors to ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production.

Tractor from a farm in South Africa that employs migrant workers
Tractor from a farm in South Africa that employs migrant workers. © IOM