Food, Agriculture & Decent Work
ILO & FAO working together

Rural Migration

Over 3 percent of the world’s population are international migrants (UNDESA, 2009). According to UNDP (2009), internal migration is almost four times as large as international migration. Population pressure, scarce land, decreased agricultural productivity, and lack of wage earning opportunities influence rural migration, which is the result of a complex decision-making process. Usually, it is determined by a combination of ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors. In many cases, it is triggered by lack of employment and wage-earning opportunities (globally, most migrants are those migrating for employment); in others, by war, civil unrest, expulsion or ethnic conflict and the associated violence and violation of human rights or also by a deteriorating natural environment, declining soil fertility, crop and animal diseases, drought, or floods and other natural disasters that destroy livelihoods.

There is growing evidence of temporary and circular movement of rural workers within countries. Internal migration is adopted by poor rural households to combine farm and off-farm activities seasonally in various locations in search of better employment prospects and greater wellbeing. Improvements in communications and transport facilitate the internal movement of people at much larger scales.

Rural migration raises both hopes and concerns. Income of migrants sent home in the form of remittances can increase food security, help diversify livelihoods and incomes, and reduce vulnerability associated with shocks. However, migration also reallocates household labour associated with productive and reproductive activities in the areas of origin, reduces labour for food production and increases the work burden of men and women, depending on who is left behind. By enlarging the labour force and the pool of consumers, migrants can boost economic growth in receiving areas, even if urban locations may experience considerable food-insecurity strain from the influx of migrants. Ensuring that out-migration does not harm domestic development is a constant challenge for the areas of origin.

Migrant workers can make their best contribution to areas of origin and destination when they enjoy decent working conditions and when their fundamental human and labour rights are respected. Sound agricultural and food security policies can have a significant positive impact on migration outcomes by promoting more and better employment opportunities in rural areas (through enterprise development, employment-based safety nets, and more advanced agricultural technologies), improving opportunities for rural residents to productively use the remittances they receive from migrant relatives; and by minimizing some of the risks associated with cross-boundary migration movements, for instance by controlling the spread of crop pests and animal diseases.

An important component of FAO’s work is to realise the potential of migration for rural development. For that, FAO promotes policies and programmes to enhance living conditions in rural settings, reduce the magnitude of distress out-migration, and improve the conditions under which rural migration takes place. In doing so, FAO takes into account how migration relates to rural-urban linkages, changes in rural livelihood strategies and the determinants of these changes, as well as how migration affects access to productive assets. Social assets are also considered, which, in such context, include not only social relations between producers and traders but also migrant networks. Special attention is also devoted to promote gender equality and access of rural migrant workers to decent rural employment.

Within this framework, FAO has written a Letter of Agreement with the School of Global Studies (SGS) of the University of Sussex. The objective is to assess whether and how the Decent Work Country Programmes (DWCPs) address the issue of how rural migration and rural-urban links can contribute to the promotion of more and better employment opportunities in rural areas, including the improvement of the opportunities for rural residents to productively use the remittances they receive from migrant relatives, while smoothing the risks associated with migration movements. The results of this work will be used by the FAO in the collaboration with the ILO and national governments for the implementation of the DWCPs. The Gender, Equity and Rural Employment Division is also collaborating with other FAO Departments in the context of rural migration and rural decent employment.

ILO has been dealing with labour migration since 1919, and it has pioneered the development of international instruments for the governance of labour migration and protection of migrant workers since the 1930s. ILO is now incorporating migration concerns into the DWCPs and national development programmes. ILO helps countries to build capacity to benefit from labour migration and protect the rights of migrant workers based on its recently developed the Multilateral Framework on Labour Migration.


FAO Focal Point: Elisenda Estruch, ESW (

ILO Focal Point: Ryszard Cholewinski, MIGRANT (