Food insecurity a crucial factor in international migration

Lander Paesen
10 July 2017
A recent report from the World Food Programme (WFP) – an important partner of the Belgian Development Cooperation - reveals that food insecurity forms one of the most important triggers for international migration.

More than ever, migration is one of the main themes of our times, as attested by the refugee crisis which spread to the European mainland in April 2015. Conflict situations including civil war, coups d'etat, and popular uprisings are often the underlying cause. They make large parts of the Middle East and North and Central Africa unsafe. In recent years, additional threats have appeared from terror organisations such as IS and Boko Haram. These are all important drivers of migration, although hunger and food insecurity are often overlooked. With its report 'At the root of exodus: food security, conflict and international migration' the WFP provides insight into a complex matter.

What is the role of food insecurity?

Conflict situations do indeed lead to migration, but when this is combined with food insecurity, the exodus is even larger. Migration in its turn leads to more food insecurity since migrants or refugees quickly use up their food reserves along the way. In addition, there is a corresponding risk that migrants join armed groups in order to avoid hunger. As such, food insecurity continues to sustain conflicts and the resulting migration.

What do the figures show?

If food insecurity increases by 1%, 1.9% more people feel obliged to leave their country. For each additional year of conflict, the number of people fleeing increases by 'only' 0.4%. The combination of hunger and conflict has resulted in 65 million refugees at the present time.

What are the recommendations for policy makers?

Humanitarian assistance must ensure more food security and protection for people's lives. The support therefore needs to be more tailored to the most vulnerable individuals. This means that refugee or migrant communities who are most confronted by food insecurity must have priority. Through mobile technology and social media, migrants/refugees can be discouraged from heading to regions where they may be confronted with food insecurity. Above all, refugees would like the living conditions in their countries of origin to improve. Only then can they find the courage to rebuild their lives in safety, and with food security.

Migrants versus refugees

Migrants are people who voluntarily leave their own country for economic or family reasons. They face few dangers if they decide to return.

Refugees, on the other hand, are fleeing violence or persecution in their home countries. Food insecurity also falls under this designation. In such cases, there is no possibility of a safe return to their countries of origin.


As part of the United Nations, the WFP operates as the world's largest humanitarian organisation providing food to people who can no longer provide this basic necessity themselves. Belgium is a loyal partner of the WFP.

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