By Sharon Atieno

Despite climate change and its effects threatening the livelihood of communities  and leading to migrations to supplement household incomes, health-related stressors such as COVID-19 have worsen the situation exposing the vulnerability of the food and distribution systems in West and Central Africa.

Of the 18 million migrant workers in Africa, 80 percent are attracted to sectors dependant on natural resources such as agriculture, mining, and fishing. In Senegal, almost 60 per cent of the seasonal workforce are young people mainly, coming from neighbouring countries such as Burkina Faso, Mali, and The Gambia. Thus, agriculture plays a key role in job creation, especially among the youth and fosters inter-regional migration.

In the tiny village of Medina Touat in rural Senegal’s southern Casamance region, soil degradation has forced many to abandon their agricultural activities. The increase in the phenomenon drives to a high unemployment rate and more and more departures of youth seeking for greener pasture in Europe, making Casamance, the Senegalese region with the highest migrant departure rate.

 Of the close to 4,000 migrants the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in West and Central Africa  has assisted with voluntary return to Senegal, 1,500 are from the Kolda Region, in Casamance.

To offer them a local and sustainable solution upon return, IOM launched a pilot project in the village of Medina Touat, Mainstreaming Environmental Dimensions into Reintegration Support to Reduce the Effects of Climate Change on Migration in West Africa.

Funded by France, its objective is to mitigate the impact of climate change on migration and build resilience of populations to this phenomenon by reducing the pressure on nature. Thirty-four returnees are involved in this horticultural project with other community members, and eventually, over time, 10 hectares of land will be cultivated to feed the entire local population.

“More than ever, this highlights the need for resilient and local practices in agriculture, such as agroecolgy. These practices can act as a safety net in terms of food security, communities’ living conditions, and overall resilience to climate change”, says Hind Aissaoui, IOM’s Regional Migration, Environment and Climate Change Specialist.

The IOM on World Environment Day reminded governments and local authorities that if preserved and managed in a sustainable way, agricultural lands can provide job opportunities for youth and migrants and it can contribute to securing food production and strengthening biodiversity.