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Migration and Agroecology in West Africa

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Setting the background

Population movements in West African countries have a long‐standing tradition. They are considered as a key element for improving livelihood strategies (IPCC, 2014; Mertz et al., 2011; IOM, 2018a), as well as an adaptation strategy in the face of climatic stressors. Several drivers can trigger migration, such as economic, social, political and environmental factors.

The ongoing environmental changes linked to climate change are modifying migration patterns due to their impact on livelihood resources, such as the agricultural sector, which accounts for 35 per cent of West Africa’s GDP. Over the last decades, the region has experienced an increase in warm temperatures, unpredictable and unstable rainfall patterns (World Bank, 2019; IPCC, 2013), along with slow‐onset events which deteriorate natural resources and challenge the agricultural sector’s productivity.

In West African rural areas, the main income‐generating activity is the food sector, accounting for over 80 per cent – including all activities from the farm level to processing, packaging, transportation, distribution and retailing (Allen et al., 2018). Since the agricultural sector is the main employer in West Africa’s labour market (Awumbila et al., 2014), the decay of agricultural production is one driver of migration, where inhabitants migrate seasonally or permanently in search of complementary income or better opportunities.

Agriculture is highly vulnerable not only to current climatic stressors but also to health stressors such as COVID‐19. Indeed, the destabilization of supply chains and disruption of trade when borders close and mobility is hindered expose the vulnerability of the food production and distribution systems.

The agroecological model – with its local, short‐circuit and self‐sufficient practices – can thus contribute to improving communities’ food security, living conditions and resilience, while at the same time making agricultural practices more sustainable (Douce, 2020).

“Agroecology is based on applying ecological concepts and principles to optimize interactions between plants, animals, humans and the environment while taking into consideration the social aspects that need to be addressed for a sustainable and fair food system” (FAO, n.d.).

Agroecology can play an important role in building resilience and adapting to climate change. It’s a usually small‐scale and highly diverse practice, and its goal is to deliver contextualized solutions to local problems (Levard and Mathieu, 2018) by promoting the sustainable use of ecosystems and selecting local flora tolerant to climatic stressors (Kabore et al., 2019). Contrary to conventional farming, agroecology also promotes the protection of biodiversity, and its production has a wide range of economic and nutritional benefits (FAO, 2018).

This paper aims to expose the migration and agriculture nexus in West Africa to support future policymaking on migration management, diaspora investments, gender equality and environmental protection. It seeks to show the benefits of a transition to agroecology for populations in the context of climate change and environmental degradation, and its links to the migration decision‐ making of people.