Migration, Agriculture, and Rural Development - Graça Machel at the FAO
Graça Machel gave the McDougall Memorial Lecture on 22 June at the 41st Session of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Conference
Mrs. Machel spoke as a passionate humanitarian with the disclaimer that her activism on urgent issues “cannot be tempered by well-mannered protocol.” Her speech was a call to deliver on the promises the world made to its children. The promises it is failing to keep.
“You made a mistake inviting an activist…” she commented.
“Five years ago, we agreed as a global family to pursue the Sustainable Development Goals as a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet… the urgency, however, seems to be lost on us.”
- Mrs. Graça Machel
Mrs. Machel is an African stateswomen whose decades long professional and public life is rooted in international advocacy for women and children’s rights. She began her address to the FAO by lamenting the lack of attention and investment of resources to achieving the SDGs. To spark interest in solutions to an increasingly inequitable world, she spoke in depth about challenges and opportunities surrounding migration, nutrition, rural development, climate change, children, women, and economic opportunity in a 34 page speech.
Mrs. Machel challenged contemporary narratives surrounding migration: “Humanity has always been on the move. Throughout history we have moved across lands and seas in courageous search of new opportunities, better ways of life and improved social, political and economic conditions, as well as to escape persecution, conflict and poverty.”
She asked those gathered to rethink migration as a phenomenon that needs to be halted, and instead as an opportunity to shape the wealth of nations and improve rural development to usher in a more prosperous world.
“As a global family we have agreed, under the banner of SDG 10, to facilitate orderly, safe and responsible migration.”
- Mrs. Graça Machel
Mrs. Machel painted a realistic picture of migration based on statistics: “it is often the countries with the least amount of resources that are absorbing the greatest number of refugees.” Developing countries host 85% of the total refugee population of the world . Mrs. Machel pointed out that most refugees and migrants are settling in the Global South.
Given her audience was the FAO, Mrs. Machel shifted to talk about its unique position to contribute to the development of rural areas through agriculture. She noted that bringing rural agriculture communities into the 21st century with electricity, water and sanitation, irrigation, quality education and gainful employment prospects would contribute to the vibrancy of rural life.
No conversation on migration, agriculture and rural development would be complete without a thorough look at the effect of climate change. Decreasing crop yields and increasing population put strain on already fragile food production systems. Unpredictable growing seasons deny farmers access to reliable markets. Mrs. Machel noted that if the current situation persists, Africa will be fulfilling only 13% of its food needs by 2050. She asked:
“What innovative instruments and climate smart policies are we putting in place now to avert this impending crisis?”
Women are change agents of agricultural development and the gender gap in food and agriculture was a central tenet of Mrs. Machel’s address. Bridging the gap would boost food and nutrition security globally with additional yields reducing the number of undernourished people in the world by 100 million .
“Agriculture must become appealing!” Mrs. Machel said while speaking on youth opportunities for employment. The reality is that for most young people agriculture is seen as outdated and unprofitable but for the foreseeable future it will remain the main pool of employment opportunities for sub-Saharan African youth.
Mrs. Machel concluded with a call to depart from business as usual. She asked the FAO audience to challenge institutions and those with decision making powers to transform systems that perpetuate economic and social inequality.
“Your Excellencies, we promised our children we would ‘leave no one behind.’ Let us not fail them.”
- Mrs. Graça Machel
Read Mrs. Machel’s full speech here.
 Source: GEMR/UNHCR Global Trends 2017