The world's poorest countries can stem migration by emulating China's rural reforms, and should ditch any get-rich-quick ideas about exposing their farmers to the glare of the global market, the U.N. economic agency UNCTAD said on Wednesday.
Body says Chinese-style rural reforms can cut African migration
"Sometimes the road is built from the city to the rural area, and then the possibility of rural enterprise emerging is not there because they can't compete with products coming from cities."
Taffere Tesfachew, head of the Least Developed Countries division at UNCTAD, said China's rural reforms had twinned privatisation with promoting the emergence of non-farm enterprises in rural areas.
But that was not happening in many African economies today because countries were failing to develop non-farming rural enterprises, and as farm productivity increased people were being forced to move away because of lack of jobs.
"Migrants coming out of Africa, for example, are in the majority displaced because of the inability of agriculture to accommodate them, to give them decent livelihoods," said UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi, also speaking at a news conference.
"A sustainable solution to Africa’s contribution to illicit migration is not to be dealt with by declarations in Malta or in that we should be humane and stem the migration. It's to be addressed by creating viable livelihoods for the populations that are being disgorged by unviable agriculture."
He blamed policies pushed by international institutions such as the World Bank in the 1990s for encouraging national governments to embrace "the panacea of the marketplace" while cutting back on social and infrastructure investment, but said it was now clear that had been a mistaken policy.
Tesfachew said the key was careful sequencing of rural reforms. Introducing electricity would lift farm output while investing in schools and local roads would provide demand and create non-farm jobs. But the rural community should only be connected to towns once it started to thrive economically.
Governments could also help by improving data on the rural sector, and make sure smaller, poorer and women farmers are not left behind by reforms that privilege big farms with well-educated workers.
One country that was managing such a rural transformation was Ethiopia, Kituyi said, turning it from the "largest exporter of youth" two decades ago to a country of refuge for people fleeing its neighbour Eritrea.
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