The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation on Tuesday called on countries in the Mediterranean region to better manage migration through dialogue focused on future food security and fairer rural development.
Mediterranean countries "should aim for forward-looking dialogue" geared to food security and more inclusive rural development to better govern migration dynamics, FAO deputy director general, Maria Helena Semedo, told a conference in Rome.
The region, comprising countries to the north, south and east of the Mediterranean Sea, has specific complexities when it comes to the politically charged issue of migration, she said.
Mediterranean region countries are simultaneously countries of origin, destination and transit for their populations as well as for those of adjacent regions including Central Asia, the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa, Semedo said.
"The increased complexity calls more than ever for policy dialogue and exchanges at a regional level" she said.
Migration is "part of development" and its drivers encompass a range of factors from individual decisions to social dynamics and structural forces, Semedo said. The phenomenon also has major implications in terms of food production, natural resource management, social protection and inclusive economic growth, all of which have been subject to major shifts over the past 20 years in the Mediterranean, Semedo added.
"Immigration must be a positive and constructive option. The bottom line for FAO is that migration must be a choice, not a necessity," she said.
Semedo was addressing the Forum on Agriculture, Rural Development and Migration in the Mediterranean Region, held at FAO and jointly organised with the International Centre for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies, the Union for the Mediterranean and the European University Institute.
Experts from international organisations, development cooperation agencies, research institutions, policy practitioners and civil society organisations attended the conference centred on policies to tackle rural population dynamics and better understand the causes and impact of Mediterranean migration.
Several round tables and parallel sessions debated issues ranging from rural 'outmigration' - a common trend across the region - to the future of food production and the impact of the "brain drain" caused by a lack of job opportunities.
Discussion also focussed on the role of remittances on countries or origin and integration strategies in countries of destination, gender issues and environmental factors such as the risk of desertification of some areas in the region, FAO said.
"FAO believes that investing in agriculture and sustainable rural development, climate change adaptations and resilient livelihoods is an important part of the global response to migration," said Semedo.
FAO and the International Organization for Migration co-chair the Global Migration Group, a consortium of UN agencies advising member states on the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regularly Migration due to be adopted in December.
"The Mediterranean has always been a melting plot, and this has significantly marked civilization," said Gianni Bonini, vice-president of CIHEAM.
A range of tools will be required to harness migration to the world's sustainable development goals, Bonini said, noting that population growth, inequalities, marginalisation, lack of decent employment opportunities, civil conflicts, and environmental disasters are all factors to tackle.
"The Mediterranean is at the crossroads of civilizations, ideas and goods. It is our shared responsibility to revitalize rural development and to unlock the potential of migration for regional economic growth," said Junko Sazaki, Director of FAO's Social Policies and Rural Institutions Division.
If well-managed, safe, orderly and regular migration can contribute to economic growth, poverty reduction and food security of the Mediterranean region, through knowledge, skills and technology transfer, FAO said.
But the potential benefits of migratory movements need to be actively promoted through coherent policies that jointly harness its potential and minimize its negative effects, FAO warned.